Sunday, January 31, 2016

Mixed Messages on Kamara

Excellent reporting on the Kei Kamara contract situation by Shawn Mitchell in today's Columbus Dispatch as he was able to get quotes from both sides. Let's run down them real quick...

Gregg Berhalter:
- Kamara returned from Sierra Leone with "a slight illness that limited his training."
- "As far as I'm concerned he was full in with what he is able to to right now"
- "Our goal is to build him up to full strength. We're not going to rush him back."
- Won't "confirm or deny" negotiations.
Kei Kamara:
- Confirmed that he is in a contract dispute.
- "It's not something to hide"
- "We are talking contract. But we have not agreed to anything. When we do, then mentally I'll be good to go. 100%. But at the moment we're still talking."
- "under contract and that's why I'm here and not holding out. I've been paid to be here. But at the same time, I've done what I can do... for my team and I feel like I should be rewarded for it. So that's what I've asked the club to do."

It's a little bizarre that Berhalter is still talking this way. It's been speculated since the beginning of January that Kamara may be looking.

Berhalter, like any coach or anyone responsible for player contracts, would clearly rather this be not out in the world (and certainly not mentioned on a USMNT broadcast, like it was tonight). In the past, he's used excuses for players not happy or seeking a new deal. Same goes for Kamara but this time, it's got him reeling a bit.

Another rough going sign here is that Berhalter is still not being forthright about the situation when Kamara is. Mitchell mentioned that Kamara was offered an additional $140,000 for next season, but that seems like hush money seeing how the team is wanting this to not be about a contract.

Kamara is acting as his own agent, according to the article. That may end up hurting him ultimately, but he is in the right. He just had the best offensive season in Crew history and one of the best in MLS history. On top of that, he likely knows that Columbus is up the creek if he decides he is done.

Things sound like they are calm at the moment, in regards to communication. Since he's on a deal right now, MLS corporate is probably just shrugging their shoulders and ready to hit the dump button if he keeps holding out.

We shall see. Needs to be resolved quickly because these things jack up early seasons, especially with the missed training. Crew already are missing three to the USMNT, this just sorta backs things up even more.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Crew Sign Casey

Crew SC announced today the signing of 34-year-old Conor Casey. With little by the way of team coverage, the acquisition came a bit abruptly, but not sure it moves the needle much either way. Still though, the first news anyone got of this was through the team site. Take from that what you will.

Also of note is the circumstances surrounding this pick-up. Contract trouble surrounds co-league leading scorer and promotional friend to most in each town he's played - Kei Kamara.

Sounds like MLS and Columbus have worked this one out. Crew will have Casey, regardless.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Schoenfeld to Israel

Aaron Schoenfeld is off to Maccabi Netanya of the Israeli Premier League. Along the way, he'll be collecting a paycheck twice that of what he made here in MLS (60k to 125k). Wrote about this situation last week. He should do well.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

What The Season After Brings

Going to cut to the chase here: Recent MLS Cup Final losers do pretty well the next year, just likely won't win the Cup.

There's more to it, of course. But that is the long and short. Here's a table that plots out the years around the last six MLS Cup runner-ups. Small group I'm looking at here, but in MLS terms, it might as well be a generation. "Generally," the teams that make the final but don't win are working through a three or four-year cycle.

YearTeamYear PreviousRunner-Up YrYr After Final2 Yrs After Final
2010FC Dallas1.301.671.531.15
2011Houston Dynamo1.101.441.561.50
2012Houston Dynamo1.441.561.501.15
2013Real Salt Lake1.681.651.651.21
2014New England Revolution1.501.621.47
2015Columbus Crew SC1.531.56

Makes a lot of sense, actually. You hear about three-year plans all the time in MLS. Turns out it's kind true! You'll notice the bad news coming for Columbus next year. Massive drop off there.

Unless you're the LA Galaxy, you are not returning to win the MLS Cup after losing. If anyone can, I suppose Gregg Berhalter can. Not seeing it though. At least not right now. While Crew SC made the final, the playoffs were a hatchet job - the team losing more than they won by the end of it.

Year three is here, though. Should see a nice regular season for the team. Fifty-some points. I think that's about right unless we see a couple key players added. 

Here's a chart that shows the three-year, rise and fall thing I'm talking about:

Saturday, January 16, 2016

No Fat Lady

Cleveland fans making their feelings known.
After dining at the five-star restaurant that was the 1994 World Cup, I was hooked. Little did I know that in the years after I would be spending my time at Applebee's but two years later - it happened.

DC United. MLS. Makes sense, looking back. Being a teen with a drivers license, I was the target demographic for the new league. I attended a couple games at RFK in the summer that year. I don't remember much other than a few players and being in good company. I didn't care, really. I didn't seem to mind I was eating a restaurant that valued atmosphere over the food. I ate there anyway.

The first four years of MLS went by and my "hometown" DC United won three. The first couple were met with a "oh, neat." By 1999 I had no reaction.

Could it have been a DC thing? Growing up there I was around some magical professional teams. It's possible that maybe my apathy surrounding sports now is born from this. -- Long pause -- Hard to say. Analysing a person's sports fandom is much too complex for this post but I'm sure that it must have something to do with my formative years.


1975: NBA, Bullets lost in Finals
1978: NBA, Bullets win Finals
1982: NFL, Redskins win Super Bowl
1983: MLB, Orioles win World Series
1984: NFL, Redskins lose in Super Bowl
1988: NFL, Redskins win Super Bowl
1992: NFL, Redskins win Super Bowl

In Washington DC it was all set up by the Bullets in the mid-1970's. "The opera isn't over until the fat lady sings," is the famous line Dick Motta gave the area in 1978 as they worked their way through the NBA playoffs. I remember it as the way my dad says it when I ask... "IT AIN'T OVER TILL THE FAT LADY SINGS!" he'll say. Once they won the finals over the Seattle Supersonics the fat lady finally sung.

The way my parents describe the '70s is bittersweet. They were starting their lives together while the country was going through a rough patch. My father talks about how the movie Rocky plays a part in helping bring the country out of it. How there was hope, even in the darkest of times and the longest of odds. For the area, the Bullets built on this idea and not long after came a man named Ronald Reagan who won the presidency, in part, by talking about the shining city on the hill.

A few short years later would see the rise of Joe Gibbs, the Hogs and the Washington Redskins. In 1983, in front of 104k at the Rosebowl, was the first time they were crowned champions of the NFL. The very next year the went back but were blown out. It was the first and last time a cried over a sporting event. You know what, though? 1984's loss was easier to take because the Baltimore Orioles had won the World Series a few month's earlier in the "I-95 Series.

Under Joe Gibbs, the Redskins remained dominate throughout the '80s and early '90s. Winning again in 1988 and 1992. I remember thinking around that time that maybe the 'skins just won it every four years or so, and that was okay.

Cal becoming immortal.


Soccer was a large part of my life during my youth. In the same time period above you see the rise and fall of the original NASL. Washington took a stab at having a team but it never quite worked out. It did, however, plant seeds in the minds of the young parents in the area. To the point were Northern Virgina became a youth soccer capital of sorts. You can still see the impact of this today. Many writers and coaches are from the area and you still see some players rise out of the muck from there.

NASL might have died, but it left the country with a renewed thirst for the game. Perhaps it was a new thirst, just a different demo? Perhaps that is what scared the NFL into taking some legal action against the league? Regardless. The sport was in the suburbs. Was in the country. And was being played by record numbers of kids.

As a kid, you knew your big teams. Manchester United. Liverpool. But there was no real place to watch. It was a fun time to follow the sport though and the environment created an oddball class of fans. Bleached hair, hemp necklaces, hacky-sack. Landon Donovan is a product of this bizarre click, thinking back.

When the World Cup arrived in 1994, the country was properly primed. To this day, it remains the most attended event in the tournament's history. [Important to mention that I, myself, am first generation American on my mother's (English) side - and in the late nineties spent some time back in England. Leaving it at that, for now.]

1996: MLS, DC United won Cup
1997: MLS, DC United won Cup
1998: MLS, DC United runners-up
1999: MLS, DC United won Cup

In 2004 DC United won the MLS Cup again but by that time I was living down in North Carolina and after the 2002 World Cup showed me a much more fantastic world, I could care less about the league.


2002: NHL, Hurricanes Stanley Cup runner-up
2002: NCAA, Duke wins NCAA
2005: NCAA, UNC wins NCAA
2006: NHL, Hurricanes win Stanley Cup

After a quick stop in Virginia Beach for a year, I moved to North Carolina for college. Once the 2000s arrived I was living down there on my own. The Hurricanes making a run early in their history was a big deal for the area. Tickets for matches became a sort of thing to have. Of course, you have basketball that dominates the area and one or two of the teams down there are always winning something.

2006 was a transition year for me once again as I was jumping back and forth between NC and Ohio for work. The Carolina Hurricanes winning the Stanley Cup was neat and remember the parade was a big deal, but the year was dominated by the World Cup in Germany (for me).


2006: NCAA, OSU Ranked #2
2008: MLS, Crew win SS, Cup
2009: MLS, Crew win SS
2014: NCAA, OSU ranked #1
2015: MLS, Crew Cup runner-up

The King of the Castle in Columbus, Ohio is The Ohio State University. It's dominance over the region stretches back 100 years. Sure, as the city grows, there is room for a couple pro teams in hockey and soccer but nothing comes close to OSU.

Fans of the football team have near religious attachments to the football program. While The years have but up a barrier between me and big-time college athletics, it's impossible to not feel the tractor-beam-like pull of a successful season (which most are, parity is what US leagues need though right?).

Like the other places I've called home, Columbus comes alive in her own way when the Buckeyes are near the top. There's that "magic" I've experienced in the other places I've lived.

What didn't move the needle in the time frame is Major League Soccer. The Crew (CREW!) won the MLS Cup in 2008 and I couldn't be bothered with it. There were people that were, but it was a small group and it certainly didn't mean much to the city. It might as well have been Ohio University winning something or a large high school winning a state tournament.

2014 was the first year I lived in a town where a college "won" division 1 college football. In fact, it was the first year of the "playoffs" for the sport. I suppose that's pretty neat but I don't think it'll be something much remembered down the road. With massive ratings declines year over year, I expect this current format to be short lived. In other words, I won't be telling future generations about how I experienced the 1st winner.

MLS CUP, 2015

So, here we are. 2015 Columbus Crew SC. New investors. New faces. New BRAND. And finally, a championship final to call their own. It was pretty neat. I even ventured out to the Cup final to experience it for myself.

We are more than a month on from the game now though and I find myself asking myself "where was the magic?"

My heart has hardened over the years towards college or professional sports. It hasn't stopped me from watching or enjoying but I am more curious about the inner goo of teams and leagues than who wins things. It also hasn't stopped me from observing and experiencing how a city responds to their champions.

Personally, after spending the last five years writing tens of thousands of words about MLS and the Columbus Crew, I half expected some deep-seated wire to get tripped and the fireworks to go off. It didn't though. I suppose the other half is more than a half, then. MLS just hasn't done anything for me since the beginning in regards to championships.

I know that there will be kids in the area that will remember this MLS final like I remember my local teams making runs at titles in my youth, but they won't remember an entire city wrapping their arms around a team. No wall to wall local news coverage of smiling adults on the snowy streets of Washington with 'Skins toboggans getting randomly high-fived by passers-by. No region springing to life like Tobacco Road or how Columbus finishes off yet another successful football season like a very large and satisfied bear heading into a winter slumber in a cave atop his kingdom.

Going over what Crew SC were able to accomplish this year is none of those romantic things. In fact, running back over it feels like checking off a series of company goals. Think of those pictures you saw recently of team office folks during the MLS "super draft." THAT is the image I hold in my head when thinking MLS titles.

Build strong front office
Rebrand tired image
Revise gate to tix sold metric
Improve social metrics
Reduce loses, +% merch
Win league trophy
Upgrade office (paint walls)
Reduce staff turnover
Revise attendance policy

Every team has these things, of course. But no league puts them so front and center as MLS does. It's all about rules, fan engagement and soft items like that. So precious little of it has to do with heart. I mean, I see it in the players but it isn't projected very well by the league.

The intensity of MLS and the "super draft"

I don't believe it has to do with lack of history. Soccer has been in the US for over a hundred years. When the Bullets won the NBA title in the late '70s they had only just merged with the ABA. When the Redskins were winning the Super Bowl in the '80s the league the NFL was only in its teens. Maybe it's the deep non-current organized league history of teams that drive fans? There's some independence when you dig into the histories of NBA, NHL or NFL teams (MLB has always maintained the independent "club" philosophy).

MLS likes to market its youth but other modern leagues aren't as old as we like to think. NFL being the big one. When MLS was formed 21 years ago we were only on Super Bowl 24. Not sure how old the NBA really is. I'm not even sure they know. Doesn't prevent either of them co-opting deep histories beyond their current formations.

Now that I've gone over my little sports history and self-reflection MLS comes off even more as a league pooped out by modern incarnations of our organized sports in the US. It's the pure and unsullied version of what they want. Business and profit first. In fact, MLS is much more like what we see now in St. Louis with the NFL rams leaving. No benches being ripped out of the stands. No marching band left marching decades after the team abandoned them.


Lots of open ended items in post. There seems to be one thought that sticks with me after going over my little history. With no independent spirit or passion in the their history to point to or pull from, events that should matter - just sort of happen.


Thursday, January 14, 2016

God is an American

DAVID BOWIE & TRENT REZNOR I'm Afraid of Americans (Uncensored Version) from D O M & N I C on Vimeo.

David Bowie passed away this week. David Bowie was an artist. The video above was where he impacted me in a Bowie way. 1997. Like most around my age, we knew him more from the 1986 cult-like hit Labyrinth with Jennifer Connely. By the time he linked up with Trent Reznor to create "I’m Afraid of Americans" he had already impacted multiple generations before.

I hadn't seen it in some time and thought I might end up cringing through it watching this week. That didn't happen. In fact, while the music may have aged, the theme and imagery still hold up. More so than almost anything written today, in fact, nearly 20 years later. Even the cinematography is beautifully done and at the best quality. Very Bowie.

In the years since I've always found myself digging back through Bowie songs, pleasantly finding gems each time I go looking. A constant reminder that no matter how deep I dig creatively, here on this site or elsewhere, I know he's already been there. He's left us so much. For that, I'm forever grateful.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

'16 MLS TV Schedule, Thoughts

Major League Soccer announced their national TV schedule last week. A few surprises, but for anyone close to the league it looks similar to last year. MLS is in the second year of an eight-year bundled deal with ESPN, Unimas and FOX that includes US Men's National Team games.

Four Schedule Highlights:
[1] 4 games "over the air" on Fox. First broadcast is in May, the rest are in July
[2] Sporting KC - Eleven games at Home
[3] One home match: Dallas, Columbus, New England
[4] 92 regular season games featured (15%)

It's no secret that MLS performed poorly in the first year of the current TV rights set up. How bad was it? So bad it prompted a piece in the, otherwise largely PR magazine, Sports Business Journal.

More people watched the LPGA Evian Masters final round in mid-September on NBC (696,000 viewers) than last month’s MLS Cup on ESPN (668,000). About the same number of people tuned into July’s Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on ESPN (1.1. million) as the combined number of MLS Cup viewers on ESPN and Univision (1.2 million). - John Ourand, "Sunday is simply too crowded for MLS championship"

Mr. Ourand goes on to offer a couple suggestions as to how to "fix" this problem - hold a mid-week Final or hold it after the College Football season has ended. Both are fine but the come from the perspective that MLS needs to fit into the casual US sports fan's schedule.

US Sports Fan's Schedule*:
January: Bowl games, NFL playoffs
February: NFL Playoffs
March: March Madness, College BB
April: NBA, NHL playoffs, Masters
May: MLB, Kentucky Derby, PGA
June: MLB, PGA
July: MLB, PGA
August: Start of NFL
September: NFL, MLB late season
October: MLB, NFL, College FB
November: NFL, College FB
December: NFL

Looking at the general list of events it is easy to see why MLS picked out the summer to hold games, but it also shows how narrow-minded and US focused they were as FIFA events are played during those summer months.

This year US sports fan will be watching either Euro 2016, Copa America or the Summer Olympics on top of their normal summer activities. Combine that with global soccer powerhouses coming over to the US to play friendlies, often between themselves, and things get messy for the league on TV.

Because of this MLS / SUM / USSF (in essence, they same corporation) is oddly competing with themselves during that time of year.

The TV problem for MLS falls into the severe issue category and the changing landscape of program consumption only compounds the issue.

There are solutions, but they require some rather large egos to humble themselves and have a come to Jesus moment. By that I mean - step back and look at it with fresh eyes. 20 teams, two conferences, unbalanced schedule and an ever-changing playoff cup competition will never get these guys to where they want to go. Nor will it energize a nation to change viewing habits.

Best case scenario for MLS is for their ratings in 2016 to look like 2015. A Challenge, though, because Euro 2016 and Copa America will blot out the league for a couple months this summer.

Right after that, it's back to club friendlies.


Thursday, January 7, 2016

Crew SC Bring Three

Recently contract extended (again) Gregg Berhalter's Crew SC side has three regulars in the January 2016 US Men's National Team camp. Wil Trapp, Tony Tchani and Ethan Finlay. It's all coming up roses for Berhalter as he seems to have operator / investor Anthony Precourt by the scruff of his neck so far (in regards to contracts). Berhalter's career trajectory is currently off the charts. Could just be the way it is here in Columbus. Either way, good start to the 2016 calendar year for Crew fans.

U.S. Roster by Position:
GOALKEEPERS (2): Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls)
DEFENDERS (7): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Matt Miazga (New York Red Bulls), Eric Miller (Montreal Impact), Tim Parker (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Marc Pelosi (San Jose Earthquakes), Matt Polster (Chicago Fire)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Fatai Alashe (San Jose Earthquakes), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Mix Diskerud (New York City FC), Jermaine Jones (Unattached), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution), Tony Tchani (Columbus Crew SC), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC)
FORWARDS (6): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Ethan Finlay (Columbus Crew SC), Jerome Kiesewetter (VfB Stuttgart), Jordan Morris (Unattached), Khiry Shelton (New York City FC), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Kamara Looking? Schoenfeld in Israel

Transfer windows are opening up all over the world this week and it appears that two Crew players are already involved in the dealings.

First up is an ESPN report that Columbus Crew SC are feeling out Radamel Falcao. A link to an outrageous high-profile player an annual event for Columbus offseason whose lifecycle usually has the following pattern...

1. Joke on Twitter
2. Picked up by unaware small foreign site using Google Translate
3. Big US media outlet cites small site, runs with story

Don't laugh at number two there. That is a two-way street. It happens with MLS media people all the time. Google is a great tool to translate words but it doesn't give you nuance or tone in language or help you understand a culture better. Simple example - "Kamara killed it today! He completely bossed the backline." A non-English speaking person might be wondering why team manager Kei Kamara murdered something.

This particular rumor about Falcao appears to not come from that running winter joke among fans. The report claims that he is talking with both Deigo Valeri and Federico Higuain about MLS. Entirely plausible considering the relationships between players. From there (if we are to continue walking down this street) it's easy to say the Crew front office has likely talked to one of Falcao's people out of simple due diligence. After his knee injury and crossing the 30 mark, he is ripe for a league like MLS. Particularly if he wants a quick shot in the arm to land another big deal before he's done (modern role of MLS, isn't it?).

Where there's smoke... there's a text that some front office person would like back. However, if operator / investor Anthony Precourt and company are looking around for a player of Falcao's stature then it means that they aren't comfortable with Kei Kamara returning. No way the team would keep both players on the roster considering the style Berhalter plays.


Different story for Schoenfeld. A report out of Israel has him working out with Maccabi Netanya, who are currently last on the Ligat ha'Al table. With 8 goals in 16 matches they appear to be looking for a scorer.

Schoenfeld can be proud of his time here in Columbus. He was selected to be on the senior roster by both Robert Warzycha and Gregg Berhalter. Part of that may be that he's an inexpensive, tall, athletic, hardworking and English-speaking player, but another part of it is that he comes off as a genuinely good person.

He's also one of the quickest and hardest strikers of the ball in recent Crew memory. Give him a half yard of space and he'll rip off a screamer in milliseconds.

Maccabi Netanya is currently ranked 1,171 in the world, accourding to Football Database. MLS teams fall in the 800-900 range, so that seems about right for Aaron Schoenfeld.

All the best to him if he makes it, what a great experience it could be.

Transfer window in Israel opens up January 6th.