Monday, August 31, 2015

Trend: MLS Table, Previous 10 Weeks

Here is a look at the overall MLS table since the last week of June.

New York Red Bulls2.201.50
L.A. Galaxy2.001.11
FC Dallas2.001.00
Columbus Crew1.910.09
Colorado Rapids1.800.10
New England Rev.1.63-0.13
Vancouver Whitecaps1.600.60
Sporting Kansas City1.60-0.10
Portland Timbers1.50-0.10
San Jose Earthquakes1.450.18
Toronto FC1.36-0.09
Houston Dynamo1.360.09
Chicago Fire1.18-0.09
DC United1.11-0.56
Montreal Impact1.100.00
Real Salt Lake1.10-0.60
New York City FC1.00-0.55
Philadelphia Union1.00-0.11
Seattle Sounders FC0.90-0.70
Orlando City0.60-1.50

...and here it is when teasing out just the Eastern Conference teams.

New York Red Bulls2.201.50
Columbus Crew1.910.09
New England Rev.1.63-0.13
Toronto FC1.36-0.09
Chicago Fire1.18-0.09
DC United1.11-0.56
Montreal Impact1.100.00
New York City FC1.00-0.55
Philadelphia Union1.00-0.11
Orlando City0.60-1.50

A couple quick notes:

► NYRB and Crew SC are the only teams with a + goal differential
► Crew SC are on pace to catch DC United for the 2nd playoff spot (bye)
► DC United has an atrocious goal differential over last 10 weeks
► Outside the top 3, the East has been tough to watch. Lots of bad soccer this year.


It's looking like the Red Bulls have the mojo going into the final set of games. On top of the results, they appear to have great team chemistry (comradery, spirit). They've been on an unbelievable run over the last 10 weeks, near perfect, and doing it with an astonishing +1.50 goal difference. What separates them from the rest of the pack is their balance. Overall, on the season, they are 3rd in GF and 4th in GA. The observation over the years has been thus: Good defenses get you through two-legged series. You have to be able to lock a team down.

"Surging" is the best way to describe Columbus after an inconsistent first half of the season. No question they have qualified for the MLS Cup, but they do have some false horizons during this recent run, however. In their last four they have played an inconsistent (but improving) Colorado, a bad NYCFC (twice), plus a shorthanded Sporting KC. Another red flag for me is that they are not able to stop opponents from scoring. It's been an issue Gregg Berhalter has been willing to live with, but it will hurt them when playing a stout defense (which, in the East, only NY has).

New York Red Bulls0.90
Montreal Impact1.30
Chicago Fire1.36
New England Rev.1.50
Philadelphia Union1.56
DC United1.89
Columbus Crew1.91
Toronto FC2.09
New York City FC2.45
Orlando City2.60

Here we are again with a healthy Jermaine Jones fixing most of the issues the team had early in the season. The Goals Against (GA) above is a little misleading as Jones has grown back into the line up they have shut out 3 teams in the last 5. Albeit weaker opponents, not many MLS teams have been able to do it. Outside of stellar recent results you have the concrete surface they play on to consider. No team is going to want to face New England.

That's all I've got for my stretch run analysis this week. Feels good to finally get to this part of the season (the first part can be a bit of a slog). One thing not touched on here this week was the impact of international week(s) coming up. It will hurt the jockeying for spots and may trip of some of the form for some of the better teams. That's MLS though. Managing league quarks is half the battle. Stay tuned for more next week.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Collection Of

Heading into my fifth MLS homestretch here at Helltown. Good a time as any to put something together to commemorate it. The video above is a sampling of artwork, design and photography that has appeared on this site over the last five years - set to the music of Daniel Pemberton.

It's also a good time for a reminder. Helltown Beer is an independent site dedicated to honest analysis, creative freedom and critical thinking with a focus on, but no limited to, sports in Columbus, Ohio.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Report Card: 2015 Crew SC Signings

With a number of good signings and heavy lifting completed last year, it looks like the 2015 class of Columbus Crew SC signings are turning out to be a mixed bag. Here's a look at how Crew SC transactions have gone over the last 18 months.

PART I: The Ratings. Using Squawka, and my own rating system, let's take a look at each of the players Gregg Berhalter and company brought in to play the 2015 season.

How the score is calculated: I take each player's rank by position in the three systems and averaged them up. A table at the bottom of the post will list them all out. Again, this is not a grade on how well they are filling their role, it is strictly a grade on impact to the first team.

Grade Scale. Anything in the top 10% of all players is an A. Top 25% is a B and top Half is a C. Anything below 50% is failing(not making an impact on the 1st team).

A (97%) Kei Kamara (10/7/14 - allocation)
C (50%) Mohammed Saeid (10/29/14 - free)
F (22%) Sergio Campbell (3/2/15 - SuperDraft)
F (17%) Chris Klute (12/16/14 - traded from Colorado)
F (06%) Kristin Steindorsson (12/11/14 - free)

[players receiving an incomplete grade]
I (12%) Cedrick Mabwati (1/30/15 - transfer from Real Betis)
I (10%) Harrison Afful (7/30/15 - free)
I (--%) Jack McInerney (8/4/15 - trade from Montreal)
I (--%) Gaston Sauro (8/6/15 - transfer from FC Basel)
I (--%) Ben Swanson (10/15/14 - Homegrown)

[dropped / left team]
X (--%) Kalen Ryden (3/2/15 - SuperDraft)
X (--%) Sagi Lev-Ari (3/2/15 - SuperDraft)
X (--%) Hernan Grana (1/23/15 - free)

What I am looking for here is how much these guys are contributing to season results. Mohammed Saeid, for example, played a significant role early in the season filling in for an injured Wil Trapp and Chris Klute, for all intensive purposes, was brought in to deepen the roster.

For comparison, here is a look at transactions in for Crew SC during the 2014 season. Taking out the Homegrown and college picks, it was a successful season in regards to signings.

B (88%) Michael Parkhurst (1/13/14 - rights acquired from New England)
B (83%) Emanuel Pogatetz (9/9/14 - free)
B (76%) Steve Clark (12/16/13 - trade from Seattle)
F (20%) Hector Jimenez (1/14/14 - trade from LA Galaxy)

[players receiving an incomplete grade]
I (--%) Brad Stuver (11/25/13 - Waiver Draft)
I (--%) Romain Gall (8/7/14 - weighted lottery)

[dropped / left team]
X (--%) Matt Wiet (11/26/13 - Homegrown)
X (--%) Daniel Paladini (12/12/13 - trade from Chicago)
X (--%) Ross Friedman (1/8/14 - Homegrown)
X (--%) Matt Walker (1/8/14 - Homegrown)
X (--%) Ben Sweat (2/14/14 - SuperDraft)
X (--%) Kingsley Baiden (2/14/14 - SuperDraft)
X (--%) Adam Bedell (3/5/14 - SuperDraft)
X (--%) Álvaro Rey (6/6/14 - trade from Toronto)

Two players that are exceptions, to the way I'm looking at it, are Giancarlo González (2/21/14 - transfer from Valerenga) and Waylon Francis (11/26/13 - Discovery). Giancarlo turned out to be a win for the Crew and Francis was discovered by Brian Bliss and the previous regime.

Afful, Mabwati have played but are midseason arrivals.

PART II: Roles and Responsibilities 

Players like Brad Stuver, Romain Gall and Sergio Campbell weren't brought to Columbus to be starters. Be it age, talent level or soft skills, they were brought in to play a different role with the team other than week to week starter. Even though playing on the first time should be the goal, it isn't quite fair to grade them on the same scale as some of their peers.

So, in this second part I am going to dive into the things that aren't measurable by a rating system that only looks at games. Whether you call it "soft skills" or "core competencies," it is part of the overall picture of the player that is important.

General Observation


Over half of the Crew SC roster (15/28) is now Gregg Berhalter signings. Players like Kei Kamara, Michael Parkhurst and Steve Clark have been huge hits for him and it's looking like Gaston Sauro and Harrison Afful will be as well.

As with every team, there are hits and and misses. Alvaro Rey, Daniel Paladini, Hernan Grana, Kristin Steindorsson and Emanuel Pogatetz a currently on the list (projecting on the latter two) of misses. That said, the overall record is pretty decent and his immediate jettison of homegrown and down roster "superdraft" players last year was a stroke of boldness that was much needed.

Berhalter and company set the bar pretty damn high last year. It'll be interesting to see which from this year's group, particularly the midseason signings, wind up by season's end.


It's been sorta fun going through recent Crew SC transactions. I think next steps would be to match up specific player skills with the two parts above to get a well rounded and fully painted picture of each player. "Sports," particularly in the US, often seem like they drift into the marketing / hero worship side of things as opposed to the competition side but that can be measured as well.

Measure, measure, measure. Rule 1, 2 and 3 in regards to improvement.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Where Goals Come From (byTeam)

Here is a quick and simple look at where goals are coming from, in MLS by listed position. Today's game might be a little more complex than "D, MF, F" but this is meant to be a very high-level view. Looking at interesting ways to break it down further but posting this because I do feel it informative.

The chart is interactive. Chose the position you want to see and scroll over (or touch / click) the team you want to highlight.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Final 25% of Season - East Playoff Race a Dud but Table Position Important

A tweak to the 2015 Major League Soccer MLS Cup playoff format is making for a somewhat interesting final quarter of the season that is otherwise falling flat.

Change is the norm for the MLS Cup. The way it works this year is the top two teams in each conference are going to get a bye and placed into the conference semi-finals - while the teams finishing 3rd to 6th (3rd vs 6th and 4th v 5th) will battle it out in a single-elimination round to meet them there.

Were the playoffs to start right now, the seeding would look like this:


What this means is that both Columbus and Toronto would be awarded a home playoff game.

3. COLUMBUS v. 6. MONTREAL (at Mapfre Stadium)
4. TORONTO v. 5. NEW ENGLAND (at BMO field)

The lowest seed to advance in the above games will face NY RED BULLS and the other will face DC UNITED in a two-legged series. If Columbus were to win they would be guaranteed to face DC, regardless of what happens in the other game.

Competitively and financially you could argue that the best place to finish is in 3rd (which is where the Crew are). Why? Because you are playing the worst team in the group and you are getting a home playoff game.


What isn't interesting about the MLS Cup is the qualifying format. Six of the ten teams in each conference renders large chunks of the early regular season about as intense as a Sunday rec league.

There's also a problem that the league is facing now in the Eastern Conference where the teams not making the playoffs are nearly locked in with 25% of the season to go. Projecting out the table based on current PPG shows a large 6 point gap between 6th place Montreal (proj. 43 pts) and 7th place NYCFC (37 proj. pts). Of course, it is possible for NYCFC and Orlando to make up the point difference but it would require them to finish out their final games at a 1.70 Point per Game rate. That's nearly 5 wins from the final 8 they have left.

Both have only 7 wins from their first 26 games.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

[PODCAST] Red Cards in Helltown: Season 2, Episode 13 (with video)

Host Rick Gethin and analyst Larry Johnson sit down to talk the latest for this week's Red Cards. Remember, you can find us here on, over at SoundCloud and on iTunes. Thanks for listening!

► Thanks Chris Doran for joining last show
► Rick Gethin writing for
► Toronto FC asking for Bradley and Altidore to not be called up
► Barclays Premier League headlines, results

► Recapping Crew v. NYCFC midweek
► Team lacking "killer instinct"
► Crew SC one of the best teams over last 11 weeks
► Overall goal difference is slim, a couple horrid results
► Two Crew goals offside? (passive offside a thing in MLS?)
► Jack McInerney delivers, needs time in team system
► Looking at team defense, new players
► Afful looking good thus far

► Playoff picture, in / out
► No coaching changes in MLS? Odd? Why?
► San Jose is hot right now in the West
► Supporters' Shield unique in domestic sports

► Drogba debut and crappy Philly tactics against him
► Quick look at TV ratings across the board, European future in US?
► NBC Sports EPL games approaching midseason MLB games on ESPN

Here's a bonus look in at this week's show. Hope you enjoy! Questions, comments? email us at

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Absurdity of F1 Grid Penalties

Formula 1 has always been known as being somewhat of a circus. From the wild days of the 1970's, where spectacle, guts and determination ruled the day to the halcyon days of the present, Formula 1 has always prided itself on being the pinnacle of motorsport.

The world-famous Eau Rouge of the Belgian Grand Prix
at Spa-Francorchamps.
While the definition of pinnacle may state that it's the highest point of development or achievement, the absurdity of handing McLaren Honda drivers Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button a combined 55-place grid penalty has many wondering if the powers that be have finally gone off the deep end.

Both drivers have a new, upgraded Honda power unit residing in their chassis. They both are on their seventh power units this season, two more than the regulations allow for new engine manufacturers. 

Both drivers have also replaced other components on their cars, all beyond the maximum number allowed per regulations. Alonso has a 30-place grid penalty, while Button has a 25-place penalty. Both drivers will obviously be starting from the tail-end of the grid.

And this is precisely why it is so absurd. With only ten race teams participating in the 2015 Formula 1 season, there are but 20 cars on the grid. Instead of the race stewards simply stating that Alonso and Button, due to the engine changes and such, need to start at the back of the grid, they have their tables that tell them what the penalty is for this and that. They followed their tables and assessed the combined 55-place grid penalty for McLaren Honda.

With the test calendar severely limited, ostensibly to reduce cost, the teams hope and pray their cars are perfect when the first two test take place ahead of the season. More often than not, the cars need work. This lack of testing translates to lackluster racing, where there may be a team or two that have a decent car. More often than not throughout the season, the result of each race is bandied about among two or three teams that may have a realistic shot at winning a Grand Prix on any race weekend.

After being assessed a combined 55-place grid penalty,
both McLaren Honda's will be starting the race from
somewhere west of Spa-Francorchamps.
Well, not really. But you do see the irony, no?
(image courtesy of @GrandPrixDiary)
McLaren Group CEO Ron Dennis told earlier this month that the testing ban being touted as a cost-saving measure is "false economy".

"It actually doesn't save any money, as we have to bring developments to the cars in quantities without proving it out. We don't always get it right, and when we don't get it right, we waste money. So, it is a false economy.

"It is more about hampering the performance of the larger teams than it is about really saving money. It doesn't save anybody money but the smaller teams.

"That isn't what F1 is about. F1 is about competition, not about handicapping. And perversely, the biggest handicap in F1 is no testing."

Formula 1 is getting bogged down in the minutiae, having lost sight of what F1 has always been about. Set the parameters of the formula and let the teams have at it. There have always been wealthy teams that can afford to play at the pinnacle. The strong will survive. The smaller teams will fall by the wayside from time to time, only to be replaced by another team that thinks they can have a go. 

As for McLaren Honda, at this point they should just use every Grand Prix remaining on the calendar as a testing session. If they are going to start from the back of the grid, use the rules to their advantage. Bring the upgrades that will give them a more competitive car in 2016. Get ahead of the curve. And at the end of the day? Enjoy the ride.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Vilipendio Historico y Andres Augusto Mendoza Azevedo!

Typically, a player of Andres Mendoza's quality will have a number of articles written about him when the end of a long career nears. Not so, Mr. Mendoza.

Born April 26, 1978 and making his senior debut for Sporting Crystal in Lima, Peru at the age of eighteen, Mendoza went on to feature at Club Brugge in Belgium, Metalurh Donetsk in the Ukraine, Morelia of Mexico and the Columbus Crew, among others. He finished his career with 149 club level goals in 435 games. Scoring at a rate of better than one goal every three games, while playing for clubs of vastly different styles and cultures, speaks to an adaptable, universal and high quality skill set. So, why has Andres Mendoza's twilight career been roundly ignored?

Many Columbus Crew fans will tell you that Mendoza was a selfish, lazy, out-of-touch player. They point to his "stealing" of Jeff Cunningham's penalty kick chance to tie the Major League Soccer scoring record in a home game against Real Salt Lake on June 8, 2011. Cunningham would go on to tie the record with a game winning goal during the run of play on July 6, 2011 against the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Such a gifted player, one of the most skillful to ever don the Black and Gold of Columbus. What drove the Peruvian to torpedo his shot at post playing career fame? A look back at an incident during his Peruvian National Team playing days may shed some light.

After a match at Ecuador, a 5-1 shellacking, Mendoza and others were found to have snuck women and booze into Peru's training compound two nights before. A one and half year ban from the national team turned into a lifetime ban as the other players saw their bans shortened. Clearly, Andres Mendoza, at twenty-nine-years old, was lacking in the common sense department, and was, perhaps, carrying baggage which Peru's National Team coaches were not willing to step-up and help carry to a better place.

While there were ample reasons to vilify Mendoza during his time in Columbus, there were also ample reasons to celebrate his goal scoring and skill. No one who took advantage of his quality on the field had the ability or interest, apparently, to help the human being inside the player.

As a long time youth coach with success and failure on my resume, I have had the opportunity and privilege to work with some skillful yet personally struggling youngsters. These opportunities have been some of my most memorable and rewarding. Where were the trainers willing to sacrifice for Andres Mendoza?

I was/am a fan of Andres Mendoza. He was a bright light during a period in Columbus Crew history when there was little to cheer. I wish Andres all the best in his endeavors going forward and celebrate all he accomplished on the field during his long career.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Shift in Youth Participation

Soccer and Tackle Football are down while Ice Hockey, Rugby and Lacrosse are up. A new study out this week that tracks the change in youth participation in a number of sports in the USA over a five year period and comes with surprising finds.

2015 SFIA U.S. Trends in Team Sports Report looked at the total change in youth participation (ages 6-17) in sports from 2009 to 2014 and found that there is a measurable shift in what kids are doing. Looking at the top, the kings of youth sports are still Basketball, Soccer, Baseball and Football but each one of them has seen a decline in participation. Tackle Football, most notably.

Change Down from 2009 : Sport (total participants, in 000s)
-7% : Basketball (9,694)
-8% : Soccer, Outdoor (7,656)
-4% : Baseball (6,711)
-18% : Tackle Football (3,254)

(sorted by total participants)

In the sports tracked by in the SFIA study, there was nearly a 10% drop in all participation in all of the top 12 most popular youth sports save for one in Gymnastics (+12%). Here are the top gaining sports:

Change Up from 2009 : Sport (total participants, in 000s)
+101% : Rugby (301)
+44% : Ice hockey (743)
+29% : Lacrosse (804)
+23% : Volleyball, sand/beach (652)
+12% : Gymnastics (2,809)

(sorted by % change)

Over the years, there has been a lot of talk about the popularity of youth soccer in the United States. One of the things the sport has that is overlooked in studies is participation by gender. Tackle Football and, to a large degree Baseball (Softball is teased out in this study), are predominately only available to boys. This obviously means that half the population in the country isn't interested. This is why you get talking heads in sports that dismiss studies like this because of the lack of correlation to the popularity of sports among adults.

What the number above suggest is that 10% of kids are finding something else to bide their time with and there is a shift away from a few of the traditional sports to 2nd tier sports like Rugby, Ice Hockey and Lacrosse. On the surface, the gainers are sports that are usually reserved for middle to upper middle class. One could conclude that recent concerns with concussions has devastated American Football and Soccer within the well-to-do sector of the population.

In a recent article in the Sports Business Journal, Bill King tackled the topic and talked to a lot of people and asked them about what might be causing the changes. Answers went from kids focusing on one sport these days to the concerns about safety. If anything, after reading the article, you will be left with no conclusions.

Studies like this one can be a call to action, however. There are efforts being made by USA Hockey to increase participation that appear to be working as well as, on the other side of the spectrum, a "Heads Up" training program the NFL has introduced to help ease parents minds on concussions. The latter appears not to be working - save for the fact that the fastest growing demographic watching the sport on TV is women (go figure that one out).

We'll see what this means in the years to come. It is interesting to think about but if you ask 100 different people what they think of it, you will get 100 different answers.

Except on the top of Tackle Football (that's likely bad news for the sport).



So what does this mean for the sport in the US? It's a particular call out because the high participation numbers have been used to foretell the coming popularity of the sport at the professional levels. We've been hearing it since the early 1980s. Fast forward 30 years and it turns out that the only thing it foretold in those numbers was that lots of youth programs figured out how to make a lot of money.

The US has a professional league going on 20 years now, but the figures are showing that the number of US-born players in MLS is decreasing by the year and they are having to drop to "the minors," where there is no promotion and relegation and very few scouts watching, to keep playing.

The lack of an organized system this country has been talked about countless times, but perhaps if the trend is parent pulling their children out of the sport because of safety, travel, cost or unfulfilled promises at expensive "elite" levels then maybe we'll see some real change happen.

Friday, August 14, 2015

It's Happening at Ohio's Greatest

The $47 million might have changed hands over a financial quarter ago, but it doesn't feel real until the staffing changes. We learned this week through Columbus Business First that the ball has gotten rolling on that, so it seems fair enough to say the formerly locally owned Columbus Dispatch is now officially part of the black box conglomerate known as New Media Investment Group Inc. (NYSE:NEWM).

Having been on both sides of mergers and buyouts in the past, I realize that details at this stage of the process can be hard to pin down. One staffer may say they are getting three day's severance for every year worked, another might get promoted and yet another will get completely screwed. Even the amount New Media wants to trim ($10 million dollars) is likely wrong at this point just out of the simple fact they don't know enough about the business (think of it like MLS expansion fees, round numbers... usually false).

Like the changes in staff, the actual investment group buying the company is hard to pin down. They, themselves, are multiple groups (some of which have gone bankrupt) coming together to try and make a bit of money by investing in an industry currently at a low point. "News" is obviously something valuable but "Newspapers" are something else entirely. Jeff Bezos recent $250 million dollar purchase of the Washington Post points to something worth saving in traditional news outlets.

Columbus Business First reported that the Dispatch made $11.1 million in adjusted operation profit last year and owned property, valued around $18 million. What this means is that New Media got a pretty good deal. Trim 10 off a company already pulling in positive revenue and own some real estate to move around - looks great on the surface for them, but a lot of unknowns in there.


For as long as I've been in Columbus the coverage of the local MLS team has been very good. In recent years, there has been one writer assigned to the local beat. What readers of the paper get is pre and post game columns, a notebook and usually a piece on current form or player piece during the week (along with a regular team blog). On top of that there is a op-ed or two a month during the season. It's great value for fans here in town but what most people miss on is that it's also for the larger MLS community. There are only 20 teams and the number of beat guys or local papers even bothering with it numbers just about as much.

In the world of online coverage, people like to talk about independent coverage. Even here at Helltown we pride ourselves as being completely free of MLS or local team influence but the kings of independent coverage over the years decades last century has been newspapers.

What we've seen over the past 10-15 years is the tide turning on independent coverage of all news topics, not just sports. Want good pub? Hire someone to punch out content. Want your sports team to be covered only in the way you like? Lock out independent voices and hire your own content creators.

It's a battle that has been waged for many, many years now, but it's only recently that the pendulum has swung towards the sports franchises to a great degree. MLS teams are prime candidate because the press coverage of it is already paper thin. Modern coverage of sports has allowed the league to get away with just about anything they want, without repercussion. Heck, it likely just costs a twitter account or two to negate challenging independent coverage, these days.

Ever since the purchase of the Post and the Dispatch recently I've thought about DC United and Crew SC coverage and what will happen to it. I've come to a few likely outcomes: (1) New Media appears to greatly value centralized distribution of content, they will likely use whatever is out there already from the league site (2) Reduce coverage, or (3) keep it the same.

Of course, the fourth option many of would like to see it (4) increase it! And maybe it will increase! It just won't be from the perspective of Columbus.

The hope is that guys like recently promoted new Editor Alan Miller and Ray Paprocki, who has been hired as Publisher and General Manager, do what they can to retain the voice of the paper and not just the voices of the new ownership.


These type of life changing events are tough. My heart goes out to Dispatch employees over the next couple months. I've reached out to a couple former and current Dispatch employees recently to ask about these changes. If you, or someone you know, have anything you want to talk about and work for the Columbus Dispatch, let me know - email: or find me on Twitter @HelltownBeer

Wednesday, August 12, 2015


Gregg Berhalter is bound and determined to find the right players for the Columbus Crew SC back line. In Gaston Sauro, the Crew technical director has plucked a gem out of Argentina via Calcio Catania in Italy.

Berhalter has poked and prodded his back four all season. From sitting Emanuel Pogatetz the last few games, to wishing Waylon Francis had an identical twin who happened to be right footed, three G's has sorely needed speed in the central back position.

Offensive dynamics, quick, simple possession play leading to many and varied attacks in and around the Crew's opponent's eighteen, has begun to show signs of reverting to thru-ball-city with only Finlay and Kamara baring their teeth. This thinning of diversity in attack can be blamed, partially, on the dysfunction within the central defensive two.

In soccer, any major issues, even at one position, affect the total eleven. On the field of play, eleven can appear greater in number or significantly less. The problems of space and pace in the Black and Gold clad side's last two have been leeching their way into the brightest star, dominate team play, at the other end of the field.

Back line rapidly floating into the abyss and taking the promise of greatness with it, Gregg Berhalter convinced Anthony Precourt to open his checkbook and put pen to bank balance. If Gaston Sauro's legs can outrun Pogatetz, Parkhurst and Wahl, the binding needed to tie together Crew SC's eleven may just lead to a restart of Major League Soccer's one-of-a-kind attack. The great unwashed masses in Middle Ohio may or may not deserve the wizard's vision; but, the conjurer is stirring the roiling cauldron at Hudson and I71.

Rick Gethin! Radio Man, Service to Country and Writer Extraordinaire...

Left to right in photo: Vidda Grubin, Rick Gethin, Podcast Special Guest Chris Doran, Larry Johnson

Sometimes---my mind wanders. When at the poker table, redbirds and the occasional greenback slip comfortably from my modest chip stack into the welcoming towers of my tablemates' arsenals. The poker room, almost any poker room, is the place which gives me solace and feels most like home; a wandering mind in those friendly confines is simply part of the family.

When my mind wanders while writing, I am far from melancholy. Mistakes while writing, a hard won skill for me, chomp, chomp, chomp at the lining of my fragile stomach. Yesterday, Rick Gethin pointed out that I had misspelled Chris Doran's name in my last posting to the Helltown Beer Blog.

The expletives which formed deep in my tortured gut and rolled quietly out of my mouth, while I sat in a usually serenity inducing poker room, surely caused some of my tablemates to wonder if I had begun to lose more than money in the previous hand.

Larry Johnson was kind enough to correct the offending misspelling, which Rick had so kindly pointed out, as I could not access the editing function of Blogger at that instant. With that horrible faux pas rectified, and upon returning to the current couch upon which I reside, I combed through the post containing the Chris Doran name catastrophe and found three more, truly Rumpelstiltskin like, blunders. (Shouting out your name in the middle of the woods is never a good idea when said name is the key to winning the body and soul of a newborn king) My mind must have been wandering wickedly while writing the previous day.

I also realized I barely mentioned Rick Gethin, contributor to Helltown, in the error laden post. I will now rectify that mistake.

Rick and Larry have known each other for a few years now. Rick covered the Crew for the Massive Report, the Columbus Blue Jackets for Fox Sports and heavy metal bands with his trusty six string.

What most don't know about Rick is that he spent time serving in the armed forces. He also, in a time far away, was a radio personality in the northeastern portion of this great country. His skills mixing, editing and recording, as well as moderating discussion on the Red Cards in Helltown Podcast are invaluable.

Rick is part of an impressive team here in Helltown. I don't know whether he will be happy with me outing his impressive resume, but I've done it, so...there it is.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Fury, Heinemann Among NASL Leaders

Ottawa Fury FC are unbeaten this Fall NASL season. With an astonishing 19 points from 7 games (2.71 PPG!), they also top the the combined table for the year. The team to beat.

One of the players leading the way for them is a familiar face to Helltown in Tom Heinemann. After working through some injuries the last year he has helped take Ottawa to their remarkable record this Fall with 4 goals and 2 assists in 819 minutes.

Top 15 NASL Goal + Assist p90 leaders with at least 450 minutes (5 games) played.

G+Ap90 : Name - Club
1.37 : Pedro Ferreira Mendes - ATL
1.35 : Tomi Ameobi - FCE
1.00 : Lance Laing - FCE
0.93 : Jaime Chávez - ATL
0.92 : Omar Cummings - SAS
0.92 : Christian Ramirez - MNU
0.92 : Nacho Novo - CAR
0.86 : Maicon Santos - TBR
0.73 : Georgi Hristov - TBR
0.66 : Tom Heinemann - OTT
0.63 : Tiyi Shipalane - CAR
0.60 : Kalif Alhassan - MNU
0.58 : Billy Forbes - SAS
0.57 : Leonardo Fernandes - NYC
0.55 : Alhassane Keita - JAX

Still a bit to go in the Fall Season for the NASL but that list provides the league leaders as things stand. Over the years I've noted that any player jumping up over 0.60 goals + assists is ready for the next level. We'll see if these guys can keep it going the remainder of the year.

Heinemann is one we'll keep an eye on here. His story so far is a good one and wherever he goes he seems to bring a infectious amount of positivity, excitement and winning. Not surprising to me that he's on the best NASL club right now.

Heinemann was great fun to follow here in Columbus. Not sure where this site would be without him or Eddie Gaven back in 2011.

Ottawa is one of the most exciting teams in North America right now. You can find their matches on ESPN3 / Watch ESPN.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Helltown, Brick Streets and the People You Meet

Long ago, Larry Johnson explained to me the origin of the name of his most excellent blog. Apparently, and I'm going on Larry's word (If you know Larry, you know his word is granite infused honesty coated with a thick layer of fibber's kryptonite), Helltown was a nickname given to the town of Front Royal, Virginia. Helltown because, Front Royal was on the edge of what the British considered civilization back in the days of colonization. A rough and tumble atmosphere defined the small hamlet in its early days as loggers and soldiers and cattleman often clashed after a long night of drinking and carousing.

Yesterday, Larry had another chance to wax poetic about his choice of blog title. Chris Doran made an appearance on the Red Cards in Helltown Podcast (If you haven't already, give the show a listen. Chris is thoughtful, well-spoken and possesses a keen insight into the beautiful game). One of Chris' first questions was "What is the meaning behind Helltown?" A good story never gets old, and I enjoyed Larry's re-telling of the legend of Front Royal, Virginia.

The streets and alleys of German Village, Ohio are an apt place for Red Cards in Helltown to be recorded. Once a place of buggy making shops, breweries and many ex-patriot Germans, German Village has a history of its own, and that history is not so different from Front Royal's. Germans and beer can occasionally, and I use the word "occasionally" loosely, find their way to the curbs and streets outside beer halls and backroom speakeasies.

Now, I'm about to equate Chris Doran with beer, Germans and brick streets. Please, don't take that to mean that I think Chris is a hard drinking, knuckle busting throw-back to old times in Columbus, Ohio. Far from fitting the nickname, Chris brings an undeniable, elevated, level of class and sophistication to all things soccer. But, you know, soccer is a funny sport, a sport that reaches into our innards and withdraws little bits of everything that makes up the soul of us true believers. Chris Doran gets it. It being the core of our beautiful sport.

The beauty of soccer, the whimsy of twenty-two humans making it up on the fly, is to be read like a good book, savored like an Academy Award winning movie and described by talent like Chris Doran from the inside, not talked over and shouted at.

I really enjoyed hearing Chris's take on the Columbus Crew SC and all things soccer. Repeating my above sentiment, give the Red Cards in Helltown Podcast a listen. You won't be sorry.

And remember, Chris Doran walked some of the old brick streets and alleys of German Village to join Larry, Rick Gethin and I. A little of the, sometimes, rough and bloody past is sure to have risen from the baked red clay and found a tiny hiding place in Chris's soccer loving soul. Maybe you can hear a little of the singing, clinking of beer mugs and exchange of un-pleasantries shared by the denizens of German Village's past in Chris' voice.


Metropolitan Division: New Jersey Devils

This is a series previewing the Metropolitan Division of the NHL. Next up: the New Jersey Devils.

NJ Devils GM Ray Shero
The 2014-15 NHL season was one the Devils would rather forget. They sputtered out of the gate and never recovered, leading to the firing of head coach Peter DeBoer the day after Christmas.

Following the "three heads are better than one" philosophy, GM Lou Lamoriello stepped out of the front office and joined Scott Stevens (DeBoer's assistant coach) and Adam Oates behind the bench. The Devils went on to finish 20 points out of a playoff position and closed out the season with just one win over their final 11 games.

On May 4, Lou Lamoriello stepped down as the team's President and general Manager. That same day, the Devils hired former Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero to fill the role of GM for the Devils. Less than a month later, Shero hired John Hynes away from the Penguins organization to be the new bench boss in New Jersey. In five seasons as head coach of the AHL Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins, he had a record of 231-126-27. At 40 years of age, Hynes is the youngest coach in the NHL.

The Devils have many issues that need addressed, foremost of which is a lack of scoring. They finished last season with and average of just 2.15 goals per game, ranking in the bottom of the league. While there was little off-season movement to bolster the roster, the team has a group of young defensemen that are expected to help. Eric Gelinas, Adam Larsson, Jon Merrill, John Moore and Damon Severson are all under the age of 25. Last month, Larsson signed a six-year, $25M extension with the team.

New Jersey has the lowest salary-cap hit of any team in the league, sitting just $4.5M above the cap-floor. With $14M to spend, there are free agent players this summer that are silently screaming "show me the money...", hoping the team will part with some of their cash reserves.

NJ Devils head coach John Hynes
The biggest acquisition for the Devils was trading draft picks (2nd, 3rd round picks in 2015 draft) with the Anaheim Ducks for 24 year-old forward Kyle Palmieri. In 57 games with Ducks last season, he went 14-15-29.

Between the pipes, the Devils have one of the league's best goaltenders in Cory Schneider. He signed a seven-year, $42M extension with the team last summer and posted .925 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average, 26-31-9 in 69 games. Backing up Schneider is Keith Kinkaid, who signed a two-year, $1.45M extension in April. In 19 games for the Devils last season, Kinkaid had a .915 save percentage and a 2.59 goals against average, going 6-5-4.

These inauspicious moves could very well mark the precursor to a long-overdue rebuild for the Devils. But, they still need to address their scoring woes if they hope to return to the playoffs.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

[PODCAST] Red Cards in Helltown: Season 2, Episode 12

Very special guest Chris Doran (Crew SC Match Day Host at Time Warner Cable Sports Channel Ohio) joins podcast host Rick Gethin and analysts David Burgin and Larry Johnson. Great show this week. As always - we record one hour, non-stop. It's sort of like playing Scrabble the old school way. Hope you enjoy and thanks for listening!

► Introduction of Chris Doran
► Barclays Premier League opening weekend
► AFC Bournemouth's first year ever in the PL (125 yrs)
► Other promotion sides - Watford FC, Norwich City
► Bundesliga about to kick off on Fox Sports 1
► MLS Transfer window, Chris gives his thoughts
► LA a winner, Crew SC as well
► Toronto, Montreal, Sporting rising

► Going back for a minute to the Orlando City match
► Revisiting Berhalter's decision not to address team, impact this week
► Kristinn Steindórsson start
► Thoughts on Justin Meram
► "What's going on with Emanuel Pogatetz?"
► Great discussion on the Crew backline and system
► ...more awesome discussion
► The role Gaston Sauro fills
► New additions

► Looking over next four for Crew SC
► Will it be different for the playoffs this year for the Crew
► Number of 6 pt games remaining is key, Doran's piece LINK
► DC United, 1 shot, 1 goal
► A look at the top of the table
► Playoff format, takes different approach
► Speed in the central defense

► Wraparound - balance between advertising / sponsorship and the sport
► Level / quality of play in MLS
► MLS being shaped by culture, not basing decisions based on long history
► Is there room for growth for foreign leagues in USA

Thank you again Chris Doran for joining the show!

Be sure to visit

Questions, comments - email me at

Saturday, August 8, 2015

F1 Summer Hiatus in full-swing

All of the F1 factory doors are locked-up tight
with team personnel on holiday.
We're halfway through the F1 summer break, where the teams close the doors to their factories and everyone scatters to the four corners of the globe for a well-deserved holiday.

Next season, they might have as few as two weeks for the summer break, due to 21 races being on the calendar for 2016. Thus, next season will be the busiest in the 66 year history of F1.

Team managers met with the FIA's Charlie Whiting during the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend. They would like to see the provisional calendar rearranged versus trying to fit a factory shutdown and holiday for team personnel into a two-week break.

Before the addition of the F1 race in Baku, Azerbaijan (European Grand Prix), F1 had a built-in break of three free weekends between the Hungarian Grand Prix in July and the Belgian Grand Prix in August. During this break, even the computer servers have to be switched off during the mandatory two-week shutdown. This allows both race team and factory personnel to enjoy a summer holiday.

Next year, however, the provisional race schedule allows for only two free weekends during the summer break. While this may seem to be a trivial matter to many Americans, with the global nature of F1, the rigors of travel and the European tradition of summer holiday, that extra free weekend is essential.

Consequently, some team principals have now asked Bernie Ecclestone to adjust the 2016 provisional calendar.

Recently, Claire Williams (Williams Racing) told F1 journalist Adam Cooper, "From a Williams perspective, the factory shutdown is important. The calendar is long and it's arduous, and people put their blood, sweat and tears into going racing, and they sacrifice a lot to do that. Those two weeks, regardless of anything else, allows them time with their families, to have a bit of a normal life."

Per Adam Cooper, Ecclestone said he does not anticipate any changes.

Williams Racing currently sits third in Constructors points (151 pts),
behind Mercedes AMG (383 pts) and Ferrari (236 pts).
(Image courtesy F1)
With two weeks remaining until the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps (August 23), it remains to be seen if Renault will buyout the Lotus F1 team (they use Renault engines), as they are in the midst of making the decision to form a factory works team. Renault is unsure at this stage exactly how much money they want to invest in this venture. Renault has had some issues in recent years with the reliability and/or power of the engines it supplies to teams, as evidenced by the rift between the French automaker and Red Bull racing.

Lotus F1 driver Romain Grosjean welcomes Renault buying-out the Lotus F1 team, because that would mean more investment in the team, leading to a more competitive car on the track. He told ESPN UK, "The development hasn't been as good as we've wanted (this year), but it's not down to people or brainpower because we have a lot of good ideas in the pipeline."

Could Lotus F1 become a Renault factory works team?
(Image courtesy of F1)
"The CFD, wind-tunnel and design office is working very well," Grosjean said, "but at the moment, we can't bring it on track. On the other hand, when you are thinking about selling the team, you will not continue to put money in at one stage because afterwards it's all lost."

Lotus F1 (owned by Genii Capital) has had some financial issues in regards to its debt to shareholders in the Enstone-based team and currently sit in 6th place in the Constructors Championship (35 pts). Genii Capital bought a majority stake in the team from Renault in 2009 and purchased the remaining 25 percent Renault stake at the end of 2010. They rebranded it as the Lotus F1 team in 2012. Selling the team back to Renault would pave the way for the venture-capitalist's exit from F1.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Crew SC Summer Makeover

Summer Activity
It's been one of the busier summer transaction windows in recent memory for Columbus. Along with the winter signing Cedrick Mabwati joining the team from his loan stint overseas, the team added two more likely starters in Harrison Afful at RB and Gaston Sauro at CB. Combine this with the addition of Jack McInerney and you have a team that has added four players to the game day 18 - with three of them probable starters.

[The official site for the team did a great job breaking it down over here.]

To make way for the new additions Crew SC didn't have to give up much in the way of bodies. Adam Bedell was traded to Orlando City for a 2nd round college draft pick and Kalen Ryden was cut to get the franchise at 28 on the roster (MLS max).

The North American transfer window is now shut which means MLS rosters are locked in for the MLS Cup run later this November. Lots of changes to the Crew SC roster should leave fans satisfied but also wondering why so many changes had to be made at this point in the season after such a historic run the 2nd half of last season (and why so much more money has to be spent).

Time has the answer. For now, we'll have to see how this re-made lineup takes on the next few weeks. A trip to Colorado is on tap for the team this weekend followed by a handful of games against tough opponents in NYCFC, Sporting KC and FC Dallas.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Metropolitan Division: The Carolina Hurricanes

Carolina Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters
This is a series previewing the 2015-16 Metropolitan Division of the NHL. Up first are the Carolina Hurricanes.

With their dismal 2014-15 season (30-41-11, 8th in the division) squarely in the rear-view mirror, the Carolina Hurricanes are hoping for a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

They did not make many offseason changes, but their biggest move was buying-out the final three years of forward Alexander Semin's contract. Semin put up woeful numbers last season, going 6-13-19 in 57 games and part of the general ennui surrounding the Hurricanes' offense.

They are now hoping for a bounce-back year from forward Jeff Skinner (18-13-31 in 77 games) and increased production from Eric and Jordan Staal. Elias Lindholm had 17 goals last season and the team is looking for more out of the 5th overall 2013 draft pick.

Carolina's defense could see a major boost this season with the addition of 2015 draft pick Noah Hanifin, selected 5th overall. They're hoping that 2014 7th overall draft pick Haydn Fleury can compete for a spot on the team and contribute. They also have Justin Faulk (2014 U.S. Olympian) shoring up their defense.

They acquired veteran defenseman James Wisniewski from the Anaheim Ducks for goaltender Anton Khudobin, and should see some power-play goals out of the defender.

Carolina Hurricanes 2015 5th overall draft pick Noah Hanifin
meets head coach Bill Peters on the draft floor.

With the departure of Khudobin to the west coast, longtime Hurricanes' goalie Cam Ward will see competition from Eddie Lack, acquired on draft day from the Vancouver Canucks. Ward had a 22-24-5 record with a 2.40 GAA and .910 save percentage in 2014-15. Lack, nicknamed "The Stork", went 18-13-4 for the Canucks last season, with a 2.45 GAA and .921 save percentage.

"They know what I expect out of them, how I operate, how I run the bench and what I expect out of them on a daily basis," head coach Bill Peters told "With the additions and deletions in our program, we're going to get a group that we're proud of every day. They're going to know how we expect to play every day."

In the ever-tougher Metropolitan Division, Carolina hopes to do better than their last place result from one season ago. Will they be able to right the ship enough to return to the playoffs? It's a far-reaching goal, and one that could very well be a few years away.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

McInerney Fills Need (at a cost)

Goals are not cheap. Look anywhere in the world and you see the highest paid players are the one's who are able to fill up the archaic box score with easy to understand stats. Watch out for simple figures like 36 goals in 138 apps today (or any day) as they paint a woefully incomplete picture.

Rumor rumblings last night have made way to facts this morning. Six year MLS player Jack McInerney (23) is indeed on his way to Columbus to inevitably be the first goal scorer off the bench for Crew SC in Gregg Berhalter's current system.

McInerney fills a need for Crew SC but it's one that surely wasn't the most pressing. Finding an upgrade to Aaron Schoenfeld and Adam Bedell who, outside being part players thus far, are redundant between themselves as target guys. McInerney brings a different type of player and isn't a direct sub for Kei Kamara in that he'll be able to work next to him in open play game situations, whereas previously the team was more looking to get a set piece goal with added height.

What Crew SC are getting with McInerney is a more creative, confident and durable player. His Goal + Assist per 90 rate is slightly better than replacement at 0.46 (replacement is around 0.30 to 0.40) for his career but looking at his last three years with both Montreal and Philly it has dropped back to 0.38 (worth noting that those two teams were pretty bad when he was there).

Filling this team need likely comes at a cost higher than expected but, again, this type of player comes at a cost. Looking at the current Crew SC wage bill it appears that one of the "$60k" guys (like Barson or Bedell or George, etc) will be dropping off the 1-20 budget list (1-20 hit the cap) and McInerney and his $334,167 salary will be jumping on (3rd highest on the team but likely prorated rest of this year).

+ $334k Jack McInerney
- $60k Guy
+ $274k hit to budget (or a Net -$274 to budget number)

Were this the start of the season it would put Columbus at $3.4m base and $3.7m guaranteed. MLS reported budget cap is $3.5m for this year, so the Crew, who are a one of the 14-15 teams that have to live by the Cap, are fairly maxed out unless they make another move with one of their 1-20 players.


Columbus is taking on water in defensive positions. Notably at Right and Center Back but there also signs that Michael Parkhust is slowing down. That leaves, basically, Waylon Francis at Left Back as the one to solidly hold down the position for a couple more years. Making matters worse is that there are no replacements to bring in or any young prospect outside Sergio Campbell that the Crew have to try out.

Despite winning 10 points from their last six games the Crew have given up the 3rd most goals in that time (13). Entertaining maybe and strange to be sure but the defense needs to be sorted if they want to do anything worthwhile in the MLS Cup later this year.

Secondary window closes August 6th. Columbus is currently one player over the 28 man limit. It is thought that Kalen Ryden will be cut loose. Ryden had been playing regularly down in Austin before being called back to town this summer.