Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Trapp, Saeid Compare (+Tchani, Tchani and Sanchez?)

There have been a lot of comparisons in Columbus between the 1st 17 games of last season and the same this year. While it is true that the team is sitting in basically the same spot on the table, it is also true that this year’s start is a major step down (and back) from an outstanding second half of 2014 - a back half that saw a league leading Crew SC earning almost 2 points per game along with 2 goals per game.

Perhaps the most surprising difference are the goals. Crew SC added Kei Kamara this year and he is already on 12 goals, which accounts for nearly half of the team haul. Last 17 games of 2014 saw 33 goals. What this means is with Aaron Schoenfeld and Adam Bedell scrambling around up top scored 30% more than a Kamara lead Crew.

How can this be? The team address a concern and he is doing great but the team is worse? A quick look at the log book shows that Schoenfeld and Bedell combined for only 5 of the 33 goals last half of last year. The other goals came from the mid-field that was clicking on a spectacular level. Such a high level that most pundits were pegging Columbus to be contending for the Supporters’ Shield this year.

2nd Half 2014, 17 games : 33 Goals
Finlay : 7
Meram : 6
Higuain : 5
Anor : 4
Schoenfeld : 3
Arrieta : 2
Bedell : 2
Trapp : 1
Speas : 1
Gonzalez : 1
(own goal) : 1

That’s 25 goals generated from the midfield, absolutely amazing - practically Champagne Football. This year, through the same number of games it is 13. A 12 goal drop in the midfield (which happens to be Kamara’s take).

Crew SC still pass the ball more often than their opponents this year and are fielding practically the same players with the exception of Kamara up top and Wil Trapp in the central defensive mid. Kamara is doing his part for sure but the team has morphed into a more direct Finlay to Kamara, crossing team. It’s yielding gaudy individual stat lines but it’s not as effective as last year, nor is it yielding points.

Critically important to Gregg Berhalter’s tactics is the defending midfielders and with Trapp out we’ve seen Mohammed Saeid move into that spot alongside Tony Tchani.

Tchani is the constant so we can look at some of the key differences between Saeid this year and Trapp last year and come to some conclusions. It’s never one thing, of course, but it looks like Saeid is a much more passive / possession type player than Trapp.

Looking at the graphic you can see that Saeid’s pass completion percentage is statistically the same as Trapp but the number of forward passes is a lot lower, which in turn leads to less key passes (passes that lead to opportunity). A lot of this is reflected in Squawka’s “Possession Score” towards to bottom of the graphic and below that the night and day difference in the “Defense” score (it should be noted that Columbus allowed 23 goals 2nd half last year and 25 through same number of games this year).

I think Saeid is playing a critically important role for this year’s Columbus team but his approach to the game is drastically different than the relative force of nature that Wil Trapp was last year. It’d be interesting to see Saeid alongside Trapp for a few games but it’s hard to break up the successful pairing of Tchani / Trapp.

One thing to keep an eye on when Trapp returns is whether or not the team goes back to its diverse and dominating style or defaults to running Finlay down the wing and looking for Kamara.

If they want to climb the ladder they are going to have to do the former.

If you would like to go compare players for yourself head over HERE.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Well Done Ladies, Well Done England

England reach the semifinals of the Women's World Cup for the first time. "So many great things from such a tiny island," as my grandmother often says.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Little in Reserve

It might have been an afterthought and a burden for Columbus at the time but the last iteration of the reserve league… worked.

Major League Soccer has never really quite found a stable place for players down the roster in the 20+ spots. In recent years we’ve seen two failed attempts at a Reserve League where teams would often play regionally or a day after the senior squad played. The most recent attempt at getting roster players time was the most aggressive yet - in that the league sent out a mandate that they either had to “affiliate” with a United Soccer League team or instantly create a “B” team that played in the league.

MLS history is littered with ideas like this “one size fits all” idea. This a league that obsessed with controlling every soccer dollar in the US and throwing every little thing at the wall to see what sticks all while trying to spend as little as possible via centralized control. Is the "B" (or II) working? For some, maybe. But not all. Senior teams still carry up to 28 players so the issue for some guys remains. It's certainly better than the affiliation program, but that could work well in the right conditions as well. Again, this is a big country with lots of people. More often than not, forced ideas, do not work.

Analyzing current state isn’t why this post exists though. It’s here because something did work here in Columbus more than other places and it’s come from the strangest of place: The Reserve League of 2011-2013. For certain, nobody is going to argue that it was a hotbed of developing superstars but it arguably performed more noble functions.

Here is a list:

1. Playing Time
It might not have been the most intense of environments, but reserve games often were competitive and several notches above practice in terms of intensity. It was valuable especially to college players trying to adjust to the MLS game. 
2. Place for injured starters to recover
It wasn’t unusual to see a starter getting a 45’ of action after coming off a few weeks of injury. Reserve games were invaluable to regular starters looking to ease back in. 
3. Out of Form Players
Life events, don’t like the city or a case of the yips… sometimes players lose form. You hear it in soccer all the time and the only way out of it is to play out of it. 
4. Trialists and Academy Players
Gave coaches a chance to see players up close and personal as well as valuable one-on-one time between coach and player. Can’t get that from videos. Think of it like hiring someone. You want an interview. 
5. Coaching Experience, Experimental Tactics
A good opportunity to give an assistant or two some experience running games also helps build relationships. This is undervalued. Reserve games are also a great place to test out a new formation or training a player in a different role. 
6. Soft Skills, Comradery
Last on my list falls in the nebulous place we call soft skills. Confidence, hard work, focus, teamwork, and general comradery. The latter saw the emergence of popular fringe players and developed fan attachment and familiarity. In other words, it added more color to the team.

So, how did this work out for Columbus Crew SC for the three years it was in operation? The best way to answer that is to look at the players that regularly participated.

Ethan Finlay - Top Goal + Assist man in MLS last 18 months
Justin Meram - Regular starter at Right Mid
Tony Tchani - On of the league's best Defensive Mids
Ben Speas - Regular in the 18

Eric Gehrig – Regular starter for Chicago Fire
Nemanja Vukovic – Starter on 2014 USL winner Sacramento FC
Cole Grossman – Playing for Bob Bradley’s Stabæk
Josh Williams – Playing for NYCFC
Bernardo Anor – Regular for Sporting KC
Tom Heinemann – Ottawa Fury FC
Drew Beckie – Ottawa Fury FC

Gregg Berhalter gets a lot of credit for bringing out the best in Finlay, Meram and Tchani but how much of that was those players having a foundation built in the hard work they put in during reserve matches? Without those minutes, they are different players.

This tree bore fruit. It is an impressive list of players that fill day to day, game to game needs for teams all over North America. They might not be superstars (a couple seem to be bubbling up) but they are filling important team needs that are particularly hard in MLS because of roster restrictions and budgetary concerns.


More than anything, the mandate the league dropped on MLS teams to start a USL side or affiliate was a bit of bad timing for Columbus.

After initially deciding on the affiliate option with Dayton Dutch Lions the Crew changed operators to Anthony Precourt and company. Shortly after the Lions USL team folded and they moved on to affiliate with new USL side Austin Aztex where only Kalen Ryden is getting regular time. What this means is that there are 7-9 players going idle (for lack of a better word).

As time goes by “bad timing” becomes less and less a viable excuse for not having a place for players down the roster to play games. One of the higher profile failures of not having this situated is with USMNT U20 standout Romain Gall. Once pegged as a rising star, he has now slipped to being nearly forgotten and possibly, now, out of shape.

There are others that would benefit from regular competitive action as well. Goalkeepers, obviously, like Matt Lampson coming back from injury or keeping Brad Stuver sharp. In the midfield, we see that Kristinn Stendorsson is having trouble adjusting to MLS play and could use some 90-minute matches against other players in similar spots. Ben Swanson, who has the world in front of him could be getting a head start and let’s not forget about Wil Trapp needing to get back into the swing of things after a long layoff from concussion.

Not having a place for these guys to get time is going to end up (and possibly is) costing Gregg Berhalter and Anthony Precourt down the road. Plucking out guys like Mohammed Saeid and Steindorsson can get expensive for a team on a budget like Columbus. There are no Justin Meram’s or Ethan Finlay’s on the team right now and certainly no place for the next Tony Tchani to rebuild confidence.

The well is drying up and unless it’s address here soon we may see a Crew SC team burning through a litany of signings and college draft picks that don’t go anywhere because there is no place for them to learn how to adjust after playing in that bastardized version of the sport.

Was the 2nd iteration of the MLS the right thing for the league as a whole? Of course not. Again, the one size fits all approach is not a sound one but for Columbus it turns out that there was some real work being done there and meaningful experience being gained.


The current situation Crew SC find themselves in with Austin is not working and, in all likelihood, will not work going forward. Cost, distance, the aspirations of Austin's ownership all add up to a dead end.

The situation in Columbus isn't quite right to do anything radical as well. Precourt bought into a team that didn't have an existing NPSL or PDL side (like DC and NY have, for example). Nor did the team have particularly strong relationships with the Michigan Bucks (affiliation by name only) or others in the region like Detroit City or even Cleveland Internationals and Derby City Rovers.

It's clear that Columbus is also in revenue growth mode and not particularly focused development of competitive side of things. Setting up teams in the PDL or NPSL costs money. Setting up a "II" in the USL costs even more money.

As previously mentioned, having to rely on the draft or buying mid-range guys (foreign and domestic) is not a financially sustainable practice in a team-on-a-budget city like Columbus. The competitive avenue that Crew SC is going to have to take is developing strong relationships with teams in the region in the near-term and working towards fielding teams in the PDL and NPSL longer term.

This might not solve the challenges in getting down roster guys time but it does setup some semblance of a developmental pipeline for players 18-23 years old.

Honestly, I'm not sure now to get the back end of the roster time right now outside of scheduling the odd Indy 11 match or college scrimmage. My dream scenario is that we link the pyramid so the Crew can trim the roster down a few guys and then track the others in regionally structured lower divisions while they get time to develop. I've been told that's crazy talk though, and that having a completely broken system is better. Regardless, Columbus is going to have to figure out how do deepen the roster without breaking the bank. It's an issue that needs solved soon, overwise the team will always be spending and always tripping up with the schedule gets jammed during the summer. Or, in other words, stuck mid-table purgatory.

Sunday, June 21, 2015


Jun 21, 2015; Moncton, New Brunswick, CAN; Australia midfielder Emily Van Egmond (10) and forward Samantha Kerr (20) celebrate the 1-0 victory during the second half in the round of sixteen in the FIFA 2015 women's World Cup soccer tournament at Moncton Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kryger-USA TODAY Sports
Not long after calling the United States out (after a loss), Australia backs up their words with a win over Brasil in the round of 16.

PODCAST: Red Cards in Helltown: Season 2, Episode 8

Host Rick Gethin, analyst Larry Johnson and David Burgin get together this week for jam-packed hour of talking soccer. As always - one hour long. Not bathroom breaks.

• Clint Dempsey notebook tearing temper tantrum
• MLS / USSF suspensions
• Lots of overlap in organizing bodies
• US Women's World Cup news
• Competition setup to sell tickets

• Crew mediocre at best right now
• Difference between this year and last at same point in season
• US Open Cup match, win vs. Richmond Kickers
• 20:00 - Berhalter audio
• "sounds like a limp fish"
• "Fallout with MLS structure"
• David talks about best looking soccer in MLS history, in Columbus!
• Berhalter wearing two hats, too much?
• Depth of roster a problem
• Kristinn Steindórsson a bust (?)
• Crew SC looked great in midfield in USOC v. Richmond
• David asks if we would rather reach for results over style
• Trapp update, no reserve team here hurts
• Do fans in Columbus respond to results??
• No bid for a home USOC match
• 96-er gives quick and succinct comment on yellow kits

• ESPN FC player poll: Promotion / Relegation, and more!
• League administration comments
• "you want the reward and understand failure"
• Having a huge say in MLS for a low buy in price
• Advanced Nation ?
• Couple clear signs of a "elite" league

• Don't send some guy 20 bucks just because he asks you...
• Rick likes Anthony Bourdain
• Sepp Blatter not going away
• Why the delay in the election
• We are the corrupt federation
• World Cup in the US? funny
• FIFA guys cashing out, long game is the wrong game


Thursday, June 18, 2015

This Over a Thousand Others

The fourth round of the US Open Cup wrapped up last night with MLS advancing most of her teams over United Soccer League sides. Columbus was in Richmond to take on the Kickers at legendary City Stadium. Crew SC won fairly easily 1-3 and move on the face Orlando in a couple weeks.

You can't call this payback for the result back in 2011 up at Crew Stadium. That was a different team and, what's turning out to be, a different universe.

Adam Bedell, a college pick out of the Detroit area last year, put away two memorable goals in this one. Huge night for him. For me though, it was the guys that painted COLUMBUS on a couple yellow bed sheets that I'll remember most. I fell in love with the US Open Cup the first year I stared following the Crew closely (analytically) back in 2010-11. It's the best soccer thing we have in this country. Hands down.

Not sure these guys know or believe that but I'll take their banner over a thousand banners in MLS stadiums across the country during regular season games.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Yellow Traditions

Last week it was reported that Columbus Crew SC will be dropping the familiar yellow kit and replacing it with a "funky" take that incorporates the Columbus City flag in 2016.

Team outfits have long been sources of social media conversation and changing them up year to year usually gains a headline or two from the local press. Keeping things fresh can also drum up a few extra sales each time a change is made. In recent years Major League Soccer has a more organized release event called "Jersey Week" that occurs shortly before the start of the season where players walk out on the stage sporting the latest wares.

It's difficult to pin down where events like "Jersey Week" started. For MLS it's more a get together than anything. The first place I started noticing it becoming a thing was in the Premier League sometime over the last ten years. We see it everywhere now though. Here in the USA we have a more traditional take on uniforms that no doubt comes from our 150 year long bizarre love for all things college athletics. They might have a new alternate thrown in there but, for the most part, stick to the traditions.

I'm old enough to remember when the NFL and NBA were considered dirty and didn't have the TV ratings that college sports or annual events like the Olympics. I've never really thought about it until recently when I started collecting up the odd old Sports Illustrated or newspaper at flee markets or thrift stores. When I say old, I mean I'm looking for stuff pre-1960. The post War stuff is the good stuff. I'll read them cover to cover, I love it. It can be as frightening as it is exciting because my view of sports post-WWII has been nearly turned on it's head across the board.

Besides pro team sports (outside of baseball) being seen as mostly a side show, I was surprised at how much coverage women in sport got. I recently picked up a couple issues of Sports Illustrated from 1954 (their 1st year) and was stunned at the diversity of coverage. Certainly not what popular culture has taught us. There is also a refreshing amount of coverage of international sport along side the pieces on hunting, archery and horse racing. When did this all end? I'm not sure. I'm sort of stuck in the era right now in my little sports writing history trip. I can say that I have a couple issues from the mid-80s that are cringe worthy in their treatment of pop culture, including women (especially in ads, something that was not there in the post war issues I have).

Through the ebb and flow of history I notice that there are a precious few certain things that don't change and topping that list is college uniforms. It's mostly driven by the gridiron but I see it in basketball as well. Necessity or purposeful, the suckers just haven't changed much at most schools. I guess when you consider the marching band, military slant on college sports it starts making some more sense and much like the military - Major League Baseball, National Football League, National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League all mostly stick to decades long traditions with uniforms.

Soccer has an evolution completely different. Even though there is a rich history of the sport in the USA it doesn't share the collegiate based history that most of the pro sports springboard off of. Soccer is the world's game, as they say, and the US is just part.

In taking on the sport in one pro form or another over the years, organizers have walked the tightrope of joining the world party and sticking to long standing traditions in the United States. Most of the time with soccer we lose our balance and fall in comical ways. Look at the pro league structure, our college structure and our youth structure (on second though, don't look there). In fact, it's a mess on top of the mess that is our (hopefully illegal soon) competitive structure we use for basketball and on the gridiron.

With soccer we pick things from the rest of the world here and there. Sort of like picking fruit from a tree but instead of skipping over the rotten we stubbornly only pick ONE type of fruit despite the quality, happily chomping down on worms and bird poop before trying anything remotely close un-American.

But there is something we do get right on the American Fruit Tree and that is uniform traditions with our sports. There are precious few countries in the world that can say this. It may seem somewhat superficial but it provides a sense of continuity, stability, comfort and place.


I might not like it but of course I don't mind if Crew SC has sponsor on the front of their jersey or even switching up colors if they so please. What I do mind is if Anthony Precourt and co. are ignorant to traditions in a league that have so precious few.

Early this week, after the news broke about the yellow jersey getting dumped, Anthony Precourt jumped on twitter to address the rumors and didn't not seem aware that the yellow kit had seen a streak of 17 years straight and mis-identified the issues of just fans fearing change. Like a "who moved my cheese" problem that was just fans being fans.

It's true that the yellow kit has been worn by Columbus for 17 years straight as was the black kit was on a 16 year run before it was broken back in 2012 (nobody seemed to mind that one).

They yellow leaving stings more, I think, because there was some unbroken continuity there based upon... tradition! The Anglican Catholic in me would like something - anything - to continue on in MLS but I realize this is a league that continuously demonstrates that they don't have that maturity, sense of history or long view in mind.

Of course change is part of life, look in the mirror - but unnecessary change is the enemy of progress.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Going Nowhere?

A lot of big things were promised after Anthony Precourt became operator / investor of the Ohio Major League Soccer team. Not least of which was selling the fan base on the progressive leaning, internationally experienced, Gregg Berhalter. Not only was Berhalter brought in as a manager but also charged with the duties of Sporting Director. Quite a bit to chew on.

Hard to believe but we are a year in a half in now and outside of some progressive thinking in the possession and passing departments (slight over simplification, but...), Crew SC are by and large in the same spot they have been for the past five years (or since I started following the team), if not worse.

In the year and a half since Berhalter took over we've seen the worst 20 game run since 2007, 2nd worse 10 game run and, most recently, tied for the 2nd worst 5 game stretch of form (0.40 PPG). Another couple poor results puts this team in Robert Warzycha just signed a new deal territory back in 2011 (dark days).

My long view graph might be a little over kill but the team under Berhalter has basically gone like this;

- Great Start!
- Worst run in modern Crew history
- Impressive run
- Mediocre
- Not looking good...

[The last act has his highest profile signing complaining on Facebook]

On the competitive side the inconsistency of the results runs contrary to the level headed analytic and metric based approach fans were sold on when Anthony Precourt took over the team. Patience was asked of Crew SC fans last year when they suffered through a one win in sixteen game stretch - while on the marketing side, Columbus fans were sold on a re-brand (of sorts) that was meant to re-energize an aging "blue collar" image the original Hunt Sports Group created.

Is any of this working? Do regular season results like this matter in a league like MLS? Do league rules also cripple the development of young coaches? Or are we too distracted by today's news on kit colors to care.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Podcast: Red Cards in Helltown: Season 2, Episode 7

Another hour has come and gone. Here has how we spent it. Host Rick Gethin and analyst Larry Johnson go through the latest and greatest in the world of soccer sport, from FIFA-Great to Crew SC struggles.  (source image for podcast artwork: Eli Hiller, for the Columbus Dispatch)

• FIFA corruption, DOJ indictment
• Audio: Loretta E. Lynch, 83rd Attorney General of the US
• Aaron Davidson, NASL connection
• Sports Marketing Companies in crosshairs: SUM and Traffic
• Sepp Blatter addicted to the power
• Rick Gethin's Special Report! From Zürich!
• Chuck Blazer, the corruption is here in USA
• Impact to MLS. Slows momentum

• Crew stagnating recently
• Clearing the air on Hernán Grana, personal opinion
• Recapping recent results
• Cliché's are coming out!
• Discussion on the Crew midfield, Finlay
• Overcoming loss of key starters
• Evaluation time last year
• Berhalter so locked into approach
• Is Berhalter losing the room?
• "you can feel it" - Rick
• Upcoming matches
• Need to address reserve / affiliate situation

• Kicked off this weekend
• Canada wins opener
• Women's 1999 final still holds highest TV rating
• Upcoming matches
• FiveThirtyEight.com Preview [link]
• Interest Poll, Women's Soccer (SBJ)

• Barcelona wins UEFA Champions League over Juventus
• Living in Barca's world
• Beauty of good, intelligent teams playing
• Transfer rumors, NYCFC... belongs in old NASL. Hurt MLS mission?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Simple Thoughts, Words and Actions

A thank you note, and a challenge.

Dear reader, soccer fans, all,

I would like to thank each and every one of you who have written about, taken action in regards to and engaged in careful contemplation of the corruption within our beautiful sport.

The last few days have seen what we all hope is the beginning of change within the marble walls adorned with opulent trappings that the leaders of our chosen leisure-time passion call an office. From those who have chronicled the abuse of power, to those who diligently followed the trail of illicit money, we have finally been made painfully aware of the cancer which has spread across the globe and throughout our game.

To be sure, this cancer is not alone in soccer, or futbol. This is a cancer which has dogged humankind since before recorded history. Greed, lust and human frailty continue to gaze through hungry eyes in almost all of our chosen endeavors. We battle each and every day to keep ourselves on a thoughtful, meaningful path.

The sport we love, curious, mercurial and thoughtful, will undoubtedly be better after the veil-lifting currently taking place. Sepp Blatter stepping down is a good step, but a tiny step. Tiny because the cancer which spread for so long produced a horrible open wound upon our passion.

And this leads to the challenge I mentioned above. Carefully contemplative soccer fans must reject Qatar as host of the 2022 World Cup.

I will not attend, watch or give any positive light to the abomination that is Qatar 2022. To do so would be to wallow in and find enjoyment from the spilling of the blood of hundreds of our fellow human beings. All so that we might enjoy a few moments of relief from our daily lives.

To sit in one of the stadiums being built in Qatar is to sit in puddles of blood sponsored by corporations, a country run by people stuck in the middle ages and, sadly, you and I. We are the beautiful game. We must take some responsibility for allowing the cancer to spread to the point that hundreds of healthy young men have toiled without human love in conditions horrific enough that their very hearts have burst within their strong chests.

I will not condone this barbaric practice of forced slavery by a people who possess so much of the world's wealth.

I challenge all of you to join me in stating, unequivocally, that you will not attend, watch or have anything to do with Qatar 2022 and the companies which are sponsoring the dark ages social and cultural practices responsible for so many deaths, wives losing husbands, parents losing children and children losing fathers.

Yours in the beautiful game,

David Burgin   

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

For the Game. For the World.

Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA, announced that he will be stepping down. More to come on this for sure so I'll hold off on giving my thoughts until the FBI releases a few more things later this week. Many changes ahead.