Sunday, February 28, 2016

"Miss Beldon, may I ask whether this is an open competition?"

The "Oscars" are on tonight which means that TCM is showing a mess of winning movies throughout the event's history. Below is a conversation between characters in the powerful 1942 film "Mrs. Miniver," in which Vincent Miniver (Mrs. Miniver's son) challenges an aristocrat (Carol Beldon) when a request is made to have a commoners rose be withdrawn from a gardening competition.

It's a wonderful movie. Terrifyingly emotional for me personally because of my grandmother's role in the war but I thought this conversation provided a sort of abstract insight into the English condition regarding open competition.

How do you do, Mrs. Miniver? I'm Carol Beldon.

How do you do, Miss Beldon? This is my husband.

How do you do?

MM: And my son Vincent.

How do you do?

MM: Just in time for tea, Miss Beldon.

CB: Thanks, but I've just had some.

MM: Sit down anyway.

CB: I can only stay a moment.

MM: Please, do sit down.

CB: You really must excuse me for invading your house like this... but frankly, I've come to make a request. A personal request, and as a great favor.

CM: Well, please, sit down.

CB: Thank you. You see, my grandmother doesn't know I've come. I'm afraid I'm not very good at breaking things gently... so I'll get straight to the point. It's about the rose.

CM: The rose?

CB: Yes. The one Mr. Ballard grew. "The Mrs. Miniver." [Mr. Ballard named it after Mrs. Miniver] I hear he's going to enter it in the flower show.

MM: You mean, for the Beldon Challenge Cup?

CB: Yes. But no one ever has entered.... That is-- No... no one has ever entered a rose in competition with my grandmother. And that's just the point. It's become a tradition for her to win the cup and her roses mean so much to her. I know it seems an awful thing to ask, but I thought you might, perhaps, as a favor persuade Mr. Ballard to withdraw his rose from the competition. You see, to be frank, it's such a beautiful rose it might easily win, and, well--

VM: Miss Beldon, may I ask whether this is an open competition?

CB: Yes, technically--

VM: Technically, yes, but actually... no.

CB: Yes, I suppose that's it. You see--

VM: I see only too well, Miss Beldon. Because Mr. Ballard is not of the ruling class... is a mere vassal, as it were--

MM: Now, Vin, please. Let Miss Beldon explain.

VB: But, Mother, Miss Beldon doesn't have to explain, not to me. I'm aware of the influence of the feudal system in this village. These are orders from the manor. Her ladyship must have no competition.

MM: You must excuse my son. He's just down from Oxford.

VM: Don't apologize for me. I mean everything I say.

CB: Well, I'm glad to hear it, but do you do anything about it?

VM: Do? Why, what do you mean?

CB: If you feel something is wrong, what are you doing about it? I've spent holidays the last few years doing settlement work in the slums of London. You wallow in luxury all the year...

VM: I don't wallow... and think a few weeks playing Lady Bountiful...

CM: Come, Vin.

CB: It's not much, perhaps but it's the only thing I know. What have you been doing?

VM: I? Well....

CB: I see. Just talk. That's all right. It's easier.

VM: Listen, I didn't say--

CB: Oh, don't apologize. I know how comfortable it is to curl up with a book full of big words... and think you're going to solve the problems of the universe. But you're not. A bit of action is required now and then.

VM: Action? If that's what you and your class are asking for - maybe you'll get it one of these days.

CB: Maybe. But not from the talkers.

MM: Vin. Remember, Miss Beldon is a guest. If you have any manners at all...

VM: Manners? A humble working man is denied the reward of his artistry to gratify the vanity of an aristocrat--

MM: Quiet. This isn't your concern.

VB: I beg to differ. I'm concerned for a fellow man's dignity. And the indignity that's heaped upon him.

MM: You'll excuse me, I'm sure, Miss Beldon.

CB: Certainly.

TV Deal: Local Fans Put Back Together

Columbus Crew SC announced improvements to their TV deal last week. The big takeaway? Fans in the 75-mile radius around the team will be able to watch the team without a subscription to Time Warner Cable (TWC).

The change makes right a very clear wrong done to fans. Two years ago outgoing GM Mark McCullers put the exclusive rights deal with TWC. It was one of these things that broke out of local coverage and went national in how it locked out fans.

Making matters worse - instead of working with fans upset and not able to watch their favorite team, Crew officials went on the attack. Fans (along with writers, bloggers) were told that the deal was great and to stop being critical.

Ultimately, contract architect McCullers was shuffled out months ahead of time and the team and fans took their medicine for two years. Until this past week.

For fans, the deal was evil - no doubt. But was is all the way awful for the Crew? Was what happened any different than other markets? McCullers wasn't trying to be a jerk to fans, he was just doing what sports teams do to become the all powerful entities they are today.

The NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL didn't become what they are by being "fan friendly." They do it by trying to convert you into their own personal ATM machine. Have you stepped back and took a critical look at things recently? In fact, The deal the Crew made with TWC was not all that different from what the LA Lakers, one of the largest sports franchises in the world, have with the cable giant.

We'll see how things work out for the team this year. Will a measurable percentage of fans stay home to watch the games instead of fill the stadium like late season last year? After all, that is one of the reasonings behind a blackout deal. Will fans bother to watch on TV or will the numbers be about the same? Remember; Non-nationally televised MLS is strange in that more fans are at the game than watch on TV.

Looking back, the biggest mistake the Crew made wasn't the actual deal. It was the way the reacted to fan complaints. Fans don't like to be told how to feel, especially in an aggressive fashion.

(I hope they refrain from herding fans towards what to do / how to feel in an icky passive fashion as well.)

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Eighth Annual Helltown Beer Game of the Year

Later than normal with this post this year as a new job has sapped much of my energy (mentally and physically). I'm setting in, finally, now. Time to get this post off the ground.

The Helltown Beer Game of the Year is how I mark time here on this site.

We'll start with the job change. In-between jobs I took a sabbatical. Not a miniature month long fake one. I real, saved up my pennies, 4.5 month-long event. Darn near mid-career retirement. It'll take me a while to completely digest this time but I did end up writing a bit about it towards the beginning by way of a video game called "Lifeless Planet." Go check it out. I might not be giving it my "game of the year" award, but it does get my perfect game, perfect time award (were I to have one).

2015 can only go to one game: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. CD Projekt Red got it all right with this game all the way down to the physical copy containing a thank you card, poster, giant map and game manual.

The game is so far out in front of any other form of entertainment, it's almost too overwhelming to take it all in. Difficult to do, but I was floored by the visuals when I fired it up. From there you get wrapped up one of the early storylines called "The Bloody Baron" that mentally wisps you off to another land, place and time.

Nothing in this game is filler and checks off all my boxes. Engaging and coherent story has become one of the top check boxes for me. Maybe it's number 2, though. Right behind the "Does this game have a soul, does it have a feel, can I live in it."

Some games can be great fun but lack a soul. FIFA and the 2K NBA series come to mind, but sports games are an easy target. Assassin's Creed Syndicate is a perfect example. While last year I couldn't even finish "Unity," I did finish Syndicate. It wasn't without questioning what the heck I was doing.

The breezy gameplay and non-glitchy city of London helped. Everything just seemed slightly... off. It didn't feel like London or even England. And certainly not 1868.

It's interesting that I write this today as I just got finished watching the 1939 film "Goodbye, Mr. Chips." The movie is about the life and career of fictional boarding school teacher Charles Edward Chipping. It's a beautiful film that, at the start, takes place at the same time as "Syndicate," and shows me more about time and place in a single frame than the whole of this AC game. Such a missed opportunity.

Last two games worth mentioning, in regards to what I played this past year, are Fallout 4 and Until Dawn. I lost a lot of fun nights in the former until, ultimately, I permanently lost interest in the game. I'll likely go back to it, but I sort of just drifted away from it.

Until Dawn is a different beast. Glued me to my couch. It consumed me for a few short nights. I wrote a bunch about it over here. I love the game. Absolutely love it.

Helltown Game of the Year Winners:

2015: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
2014: This War of Mine
2013: Last of Us
2012: Sleeping Dogs
2011: Skyrim
2010: Red Dead Redemption / Heavy Rain
2009: Uncharted 2
2008: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

CCL Update

MLS vs Liga MX was the headline for this week's CONCACAF Champions League matches (well, "USA vs Mexico" in tone deaf MLS land) and, predictably, it hasn't gone well for MLS sides. It never has, really. In the latest version of this tournament MLS teams have only managed to beat Liga MX teams 2 times out of, now, 17 in this most recent form of the tournament.

Game 18 is up later tonight, where an old school NASL version 1.0 type LA Aztecs Galazy is taking on Santos, tonight, past my bedtime.

So far only Clint Dempsey has managed to keep MLS from completely bottoming out of this week's heavily promoted (on the MLS side) of CCL games. Some might say Dempsey has done the same for the US Men's team in the last couple World Cups.

DC lost to Queretaro 2-0 away. Seattle pulled out a draw against Club America 2-2 at home and just tonight, RSL lost away to Tigres 2-0.

[UPDATE: LA / Santos 0:0]

Saturday, February 20, 2016

How Sausage is Made

Rob Oller's piece on the new Jesse Owens movie in the Columbus Dispatch today told me more about him than his subject. In it, he dances back and forth between the reality of who Owens was a man and Owens the myth. While he understands the difference, Oller ultimately appears let down to know that his childhood hero was a mortal man with flaws and scars, just like the rest of us.

"I respect the pursuit of accuracy. But the child in me believes in some benefit of not knowing how the sausage is made." - Rob Oller, "Owens' flaws don't diminish the man"

I'll have to see the movie to fully understand what he means by that, but I get what he's saying and it tells me a lot about the writer. Not wanting to know the details or inner workings of things, even a moment of turning a blind eye, is the how and why we get into big issues that we cannot untangle.

I'm not a writer. I am a person who enjoys the process. The parts of my brain that fire up and start making connections when I come across something inspiring... is a drug. The creative process is similar to painting, for me. Once it hits you, you know it and you begin working what it is on your mind and in your heart. Maybe all your organs. Maybe something cosmic enters in there, too.

From that point on, YOU become a sort of life sponge. By the time you are reaching for your pallet knife, grabbing the brushes and finding something to paint on you are taking in that / this particular moment in time. Once you start painting, all points between your head, heart, and your hand become a filter. Sometimes you'll know the result, sometimes not. That is what makes it beautiful.

Sports columnists all over the country go through this process multiple times a week. Opportunists, they watch the athletic world around them and strike at an angle they seem interesting, will sell papers and (most importantly) are low risk. There are some that view sports from the outside looking in and others that merely work within comfort zone bubbles.

It is easy to determine which is which in regards to the Columbus Dispatch. And that is fine. There are many, many that have the same voices, it's only the team color schemes and scale that change.

Maybe that should change, though. Maybe the idea of a Sports section in the newspaper should be limited to facts, figures and a few nice photos while everything else surrounding the game should be left to writers in the other sections of the paper.

The voices we are left with writing in the "sports" section these days are completely ill-equipped to handle the upper levels of sports, college to pro, local to global. Think about the complexity of what a Buckeye football game brings to the Columbus area. From pay for players to new buildings on campus to the Blue Jackets and their arena deal, to MLS single entity, to professional contracts of players, to the USSF and FIFA, to the lawyers, business professionals and all the kings men that make it all go.

If they were looked at honestly, warts and all, these items show up in just about every other section of the paper other than the sports page. Keeping them within the boundaries of the "sports section" of a paper or online news outlet allows it to exist in a sort of fantasy playland and enable the business side to take advantage of people and communities instead of being part.

It's time we took a good long look at how the sausage is made and shuffle along the folks that see any benefit to looking the other way.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Columbus Broke The MLS Cup (he said hauntingly)

Of all the things that bounce around my head daily in regards to MLS, the fact that Columbus Crew SC finished the MLS Cup Playoffs with a losing record haunts this site. HAUNTS. I mean, Columbus ended up hosting the damn thing. I've danced around this topic indirectly over the past couple months, but tonight want to get straight to the heart of this thing.

He's lurking around this space somewhere. I gotta hunt this ghost down.

The MLS Cup Playoff is an ever changing beast. Each year brings changes. Remember a few years ago when East and West teams ended up playing in each other's bracket? Seems like an easy thing to avoid, but nay! Same with putting a control or two in that prevents a team in the final from making it with a 2 win and 2 loss Cup record.

MLS is always trying to squeeze as much out of their small league as they can. This past year gave us more weekend games and home / away series. From a business perspective, it sorta worked. If you think back to the 2014 version you'll remember quarter to half full stadiums for midweek matches and effectively zero folks watching on TV.

By avoiding the weeknight matches in 2015, the league remedied the attendance problem but the TV thing is still a thorn. Games on Sunday during "sports season" in the USA doesn't help, of course, but if they are running a summer schedule, that's going to be an ongoing issue.

That's just it. There are so many ongoing issues with MLS trying to nail down a playoff format. From the league being in continuous growth mode to the reality that they are only a small part of a larger game, not just in the world, but in their own region.

I'm right under the MLS logo. Thrilled.
The unique position of MLS is in opens doors that other major leagues in the US only dream of. It should be a crime they don't take action (though, from the look of things in the latest MLS CBA there appears to be a new thing with LigaMX in the works).

I've talked about this before. MLS / USSF needs to begin the process of linking up leagues. A system of promotion and relegation in North America is ideal, of course, but league leaders and voices make it seem like a plan cooked up in outer space that's possibly controlled by some foreign Euro-trash power under command of the Chinese government (not even half joking there).


Simple solution to this, and their, problem is to put together a post-season cup that includes the top teams in MLS, NASL and USL. Make it group stage home/away. Tournament lasts a month. Winner gets that CONCACAF Champions League birth. We can do this now USSF.

Know how great it would be so see Columbus playing in St. Louis, Charleston, Raleigh, or Sacramento? It's refreshing to think about while the thought of another MLS Cup with MLS teams playing each other for the fifth and sixth time in a calendar year (and next year, and the year after)... sucks.


The ghost lurks, still.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

PES 16, ACC Screen Shots

A couple years ago, EA's FIFA franchise included a player / team editor. It was awesome. I'm a sucker for that stuff. In it, I created teams that ranged from NASL sides to childhood friends. The one I had the most fun with, though, was creating a team made up of Crew folks I had met in person, or out there in the social media universe.

EA tossed that feature into the dumpster for whatever reason so now I've moved on to the other triple-A game Pro Evolution Soccer. I gave it a test drive last year and found it to be a better representation of the game (although still far from what the sport actually is, of course).

Enjoyable as it was on the Xbox One, I could tell her roots were PC based. So, I bookmarked the game in my head and promised to try it out on my PC when I finally upgraded my PSU and graphics card.

Welp, yesterday day was that day and I couldn't be happier. She handles great on the PC and it is loaded with plenty of player and team custom creation options.

This go-round I've decided to us a very real Athletic Club of Columbus as the team name. I love that this 100+ year old club exists and would like to think that in an open to all and organized soccer pyramid, they would have a team participating. Using a existing place also helps with the creative process a lot. I even find myself working out things I otherwise wouldn't. For example: the kits would be made locally and paid for by club membership fees.

Anyhow. I've got 11 players in and about to work on a few more. It's great fun and allows my to quench my thirst for kit design (in a real 3-D space, something Adidas should try out).

If you're one of the few reading this, you are probably going in the game:) - Stay tuned for more!

Here's how it looks in motion.

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Exhibitionist

Anthony Precourt and his Columbus MLS team got the attention they were seeking when they released their new "alternate" kit this week. The complex yellow, white, red and powder blue combination was quirky enough to make it's way all the way up to many nationwide media markets.

Departing from the norm is nothing new in the larger soccer kit realm, but it is new for Columbus. Like the changes to the Cleveland Browns uniforms last year, it seems the efforts successfully (and predictably) jolted "midwestern sensibilities" enough to get some traction.

There's always a short term gain when you make changes like this. Jersey's will sell. People will continue to chatter, but there is a cost. Whether it's hidden or not is up to how smart the folks pulling the trigger are. For Crew SC, it was reported they were able to hang on to the traditional "banana kit," which helps lessen the impact on long-time fans as well as allow them to save players from important-game, late season embarrassment. You want your players going out there feeling like unbeatable kings and not worried about appearances.

Does the short-term reward out earn the lasting cost of sustaining the bush league, backwater, single-A team image, plying their trade in "flyover country"? Perhaps that's the kind of question an out of town operator / investor is perfectly equipped to answer.

Just not sure team fans want to know the answer.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Gall Waived, Crew Trim Roster

Doesn't appear that the official MLS account of Columbus Crew SC has announced it yet, but there appears to be a number of roster moves made yesterday. Patrick Guldan over at Massive Report, uh, reported that the outlet cut a few guys.

And here, I had just put together my team budget summary. Goodness. Turns out, now that the dust has settled, the changes don't really impact the overall salary spend.

There is one player that is a bit of a surprise though (at least for me, and perhaps many youth USMNT watchers) - Romain Gall.

Players Cut:
Romain Gall (1.5 yrs with team)
Sergio Campbell (1 yr with team)
Kyle Parker (2016 draft pick)
Vincent Cicciarelli (2016 draft pick)

Gall was (is?) a rising star in the US National Team system. When Gregg Berhalter got him in August 2014 through a weighted allocation process (sigh) it was seen as a right place, right time masterstroke. A year on now tho, it's all come apart and I'm not sure how much Gall had to do with it.

Things with Gall reached a boil back in May 2015 when USMNT U20 Head Coach Tab Ramos left him off the roster due to lack of playing time in MLS. At the time, it was seen as a shot lobbed in the direction of Gregg Berhalter and company.

“Now they’re just constantly losing fitness, and when we call them into the U-20 national camp they come in and I feel they can’t handle the training. With the fitness coach, we can’t do double sessions when we come in every day, because if we do double sessions by the third day these guys are dead and won’t be able to play on the weekends.” - Tab Ramos

Not sure how it plays now that Crew SC made it to the MLS Cup final. It does raise a bunch of questions about development of talented players (of which Gall is/was).

Gall scored in three of his last four games with the Austin Aztex (USL) in over half his apps with the U20 Men's national team. Not sure what's next for him. My advice? Get out of MLS.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Dropping in on the Crew SC Budget

Let's get something out of the way real quick: Columbus Crew SC budget matched the largest increase as a percentage of any team in MLS, YE 2014 to YE 2015. My records show it at +60%. I'm not sure I've mentioned that before. That's a big deal.

Of course, it's a difference in scale. The LA Galaxy, for example, jumped the same percentage but they are going from $13m to 21m. Their 2015 wage matching what Columbus has spent in last six years combined.

Okay. Now that's done. Let's take a quick, high-level look at where Crew SC stand right now going into the 2016 regular season.

1. I expect Anthony Precourt's team to spend around $6m to start the season. This includes estimated pay increases for over performing players and incoming transfers. Why $6m? Educated guess. After the last CBA in 2010, median increase for MLS teams popped +20%. Same thing happened last year. Same %. Year after 2011, the league median increase dropped to 7% (YoY). Last year was kind of a "catch-up" year for Columbus. I expect them to fall around the median this year.

2. On the transfer front, unless Kei Kamara's situation deteriorates, Crew SC are likely all finished. That's not to say they haven't made a boatload of moves. They have. And for quality players. Emil Larsen, Amro Tarek and Ole Kamara are inspired acquisitions. The only question is how they integrate into the squad.

3. Berhalter isn't fixing most of what isn't broken. The starting eleven that took him to the MLS Cup Final is still 100% intact (a remarkable feat). The challenge in doing this is absorbing the pay increases of players like Ethan Finlay and Kei Kamara, while at the same time, working in some experienced players like Conor Casey and Corey Ashe.

4. And here's the roster, by position. From what I can tell, Tarek is more of a utility pickup that can play across the backline during the absence of a few players this summer for international callups. It addresses the issues of depth the team had there last year, though. Overall the roster is solid, right now.

Keep in mind, I'm estimating a bunch of these players (new and est. wage increases). Probably should round the figures but leaving as is.

DGaston Sauro$611,502
DMichael Parkhurst$306,000
DAmro Tarek$200,000
DCorey Ashe$193,545
DWaylon Francis$173,570
DHarrison Afful$165,000
DTyson Wahl$101,660
DChad Barson$61,200
DSergio Campbell$53,550
FKei Kamara$547,400
FOle Kamara$250,000
FConor Casey$180,000
GKSteve Clark$192,100
GKBrad Stuver$61,200
MFFederico Higuain$1,198,500
MFCedrick Mabwati$258,825
MFEthan Finlay$249,375
MFTony Tchani$214,500
MFEmil Larsen$200,000
MFJustin Meram$192,500
MFWil Trapp$180,950
MFMohammed Saeid$121,000
MFHector Jimenez$91,800
MFBen Swanson$88,458
MFRomain Gall$64,688
XXChase Minter
XXKyle Parker
XXMarshall Hollingsworth
XXRodrigo Saravia
XXVincent Cicciarelli

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Last Night: Mediocrity, by MLS

The argument for sports in the US goes; "Well, that's to keep it fair." Which is true! But the resulting effect is mediocrity. Over time, say 20+ years, and you get what we saw last night.


The US Men's National team wrapped up the month long "B-team" camp last night with a largely uninspiring 1-0 win over Canada. The one goal was scored by Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore and assisted by Columbus Crew SC's Ethan Finlay.

The game was filled to the brim with MLS players last night on both sides. January camps are usually this way because the better players are playing important soccer right now while MLS is in the heart of her offseason.

There was a graphic early in the match last night that said around 30 players between the two teams were playing in MLS. In years past this might have stirred a sense of pride for those close to the league. For those that have been watching MLS closely, though, it was more of a disclaimer.

"Professional Driver, Closed Course."

"Don't try this at home."

"Rated MA. Ages 18 and Up."

Those are the thoughts that went through my head when I saw the graphic. Sure enough, a game filled with MLS players... looked like a MLS game. Actually, sort of worse than a MLS game. Imagine taking out the foreign talent for a normal match - that's what it was last night.


On a philosophical level, last night is exactly where MLS wants to be. What do they expect to happen when teams cannot build a roster of even 11, let alone 18, above average players?

In general, people do not become great by being surrounded by mediocrity. Nowhere in life does this happen and I don't get the argument otherwise.

Imagine the London Philharmonic Symphony only being allowed to have a certain number of good musicians or elite military units fighting on the front lines being forced to place Army personnel in their ranks. Sessions change. Training changes. Do it on a large scale and the overall level of quality declines.

Think of it in terms of your own personal experience. Where you work, even. If an important job needs to be done and you are tasked with completing it, do you want to be forced to include poor performers? What is the result if you are? Contrast that to the result you get with the best folks.

For the past 15 years, I've worked in a pure performance based business. A place where careers are made and destroyed by output. By numbers. Manufacturing, Distribution, Production. You need to have an environment where you are putting the best people with the best people to get things done. If no such environment exists? You're done.


For whatever reason, "sports fans" in the US largely accept mediocrity. What does greatness look like in your favorite team sport? We've never certainly never seen it in MLS. Check the record books.

How about in the NBA? Maybe when Team USA gets together? It's been generations since we've seen it in the NFL. Step back and watch objectively. The sport you are watching isn't what it could be. College sports, the freest of markets in the US... Imagine being able to see a league made up the best programs every year.

Last night was a showcase of some of the better US and Canadian MLS players. The result might not be the product MLS wants but it's what their process creates.