Thursday, September 29, 2016


Every once and a while I'll spin a thread about a game or two over here > Happytown Applesauce

Sunday, September 25, 2016

A Competitive Myth

Change to the MLS competitive format is way past due.

Updating my cable sports television rating spreadsheet this morning I discovered a few things. 1st: I took my Google doc over to Excel. She was getting a bit unwieldy at 18,571 rows of viewership data. 2nd: ESPN year over year MLS ratings are speaking to us in a loud voice saying that there are no more people watching than five and ten years ago.

Let's use ESPN / ESPN2 average viewership by season has our jumping off point today.

YEAR : AVG Viewers* in 000
2007 : 289
2008 : 253
2009 : 299
2010 : 253
2011 : 292
2012 : 311

2015 : 256
2016 : 281

*trusting Wiki on the old data. Last two years are my own pulled from

There are outside factors that drive these numbers slightly up and slightly down year to year, but you can clearly see that they've basically been about the same. I don't have game by game for the years before 2015 but I can say that the jump from last year to this is due to the fact that almost all games have been on ESPN proper.

Regardless. The story is the same. 260-300 viewers a game for the last decade. There's no traction here and the only silver lining that I can see is that ratings haven't completely died.

At least on ESPN, they haven't.

Over on Fox Sports 1, I'm tracking a year over year loss of about 30k viewers on average (198k in 2015, 165k in 2016). This might explain why we saw Fox put a couple games on their over the air channels last weekend as they need to get that 30k back and start getting the ship pointed back in the right direction.


Anyone that has paid attention to the league over time knows that MLS tinkers with their playoff format often. From three-game series to having a Western Conference team winning the Eastern Conference side of the playoff bracket, they have tried just about every cockamamy idea that has popped into their head.

The reason for this is that nothing seems to goose the ratings during a busy part of the US sports calendar. Games, whether they are April regular season games or November playoffs, get about the same number of viewers. Nothing seems to work.

One of the arguments for a robust playoff system is that it keeps people's interest in the late part of the season and will increase attention on the league as it finishes up. It works for every other league in the USA, but there are no numbers that I can see that tell us this is true for MLS.

More specifically, ratings for the playoffs last year were actually about 40% (!) lower than those in the middle of the season. How is this league, working within the universe of centralized control of teams, ever going to get new people to watch if they can't corral viewers when their better teams are playing?

Even the MLS Cup final has been trending downward since the late '90s. Last year is was in the 600's on ESPN. That's a number that MLS can get by placing games right after an English Premier League matchup.

The argument one could make is that it is entirely possible that just adding extra regular season games and having the East play the West winner in a Final (or, heaven forbid, playing a balanced schedule and awarding the team with the most points the winner) keeps ratings from bottoming out during the NFL and October MLB. If this is the case then why not flip the calendar, throw in a winter break (filled with neutral sites in warm cities hosting US Open Cup games!) and have the playoffs in late spring / summer in great weather? That makes perfect sense, right? RIGHT?


Whenever I write a post like this I inevitably wind up getting frustrated with the whole process, clicking Save and closing it out. I'm to that point right now, as a matter of fact. What is it that ultimately gets me? It's that MLS doesn't have to do anything to continue on going the way it is. They are set with a parent company called Soccer United Marketing that owns the rights to just about every tournament in the United States as well as the rights to the Mexican team that now plays the majority of their games in the US.

Another mechanism powering the current crummy, uninteresting and un-watched competitive model MLS has (that lives somewhere between regular season college softball games and bass fishing) is that they have plenty of room for more teams and lucrative expansion fees. At last check, most domestic professional leagues have 30-32 teams. MLS can live off of future fees for the next 30 years if they play their cards right (and FIFA doesn't check in on page 66, article 9). All they have to do is to keep on... existing.

Or, at least, that's what I've always sort of figured. I always run into this wall in a post like this. But what if these ratings aren't enough? What if the larger sports business world notices by watching games that their attendance reports aren't quite within industry standards ? What if sponsorships flatline? What if investors don't see the return after 24 teams enter? What if low quality of play kills off any remaining viewers in the next five years?

I think those types of questions is what keeps MLS chugging along, doing what it's been doing. The risk that comes with real change is too great. Plenty of open slots for expansion and Soccer United Marketing is as strong as ever. Who needs to rely on a strong competition format?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Meram '16

(part of my underground series entitled "why to watch the #Crew16")

Monday, September 19, 2016

USA v Mexico! (is not what it use to be)

It was announced today that the semi-annual event many know as "dos a cero" will be once again played in Columbus at Crew Stadium. Well, [Sponsor Name] Stadium, anyway. Mexico coming to Columbus has become a very, very special event with a unique scoreline.

No need to rehash the history of these two American neighbors going at it but it I will go over why Columbus is special. You see... For decades Mexico owned the United States in soccer. The rivalry heated, yes, but mostly one-sided. That changed in the early 2000s when the US beat them at newly minted Crew Stadium, 2-0. It was a huge deal. It happened again a few years later in 2005 and then again in 2009.

2013 rolls around and things start to feel a little different. Around that time Mexico started playing most of their games in the United States. Deals were cut with jersey makers for both sides and Soccer United Marketing (ie. SUM, whose revenues power MLS) carried the rights to Mexico's games.

Right now we are currently in the middle of a four-year deal that see's SUM pay Mexico $2 million dollars a match played in the US. The relationship between the two goes back to around 2003, believe it or not, but it is now a full-blown partnership. Why does Mexico play most of her games in the US? That's why.

Is there some sort of rivalry between the two countries? Yeah, kinda. I think the players feel it when they play in very hostile environments. But since the two started playing nice a decade ago to mutual benefit... it's more a thing for fans to buy jerseys and show some national pride.

The challenge, the bad blood, the competitive uniqueness, the sheer awesome scariness of the Azteca in the 80s and 90s where you felt the estadio herself would fall in on itself and consume the US players. - has all been sucked away over the last decade to the point where it is now - A catchy phrase to sell stuff. Stuff that one company is selling.

Many might not understand why that makes much of a difference. I think I get that, but to that, I'll say; where your money is, so is your heart. SUM is too closely tied to both for this to be a real something other than a show. Which is okay! Which is a thing you can enjoy!

But is it the same as it was before the two became business partners? Heck no. Anyone trying to sell it to you as something more than what it has become either works for SUM, USSF, MLS or worse.. doesn't know their history and just buys into it all ("ignorant" is the old word for that - Brand Journalist is the new term).

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Orlando, Florida vs. Columbus Crew SC

Tonight is a perfect example of a broken game. Something drives me nuts about MLS as a competition. It's going to be sticky down in Orlando today. Mid-80s, humid. It's also going to be played on an artificial surface in a stadium designed for the gridiron.

Orlando will soon (?) be in their new stadium, which at one point, allegedly, was going to be filled with natural grass. By "soon," I think the plan is to have the much-delayed stadium done for the start of the 2017 season. Which is great! Still doesn't solve the heat problem, but it solves a few of the other issues.

Till then, however. Tonight's game isn't about the players on the field as it is everything else around it. Here is a visual representation of what people will be watching tonight [huummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm]:

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Player Performance Circles

Crew SC lost again last night. I guess it should have been predictable without Higuain and Wil Trapp. Or was it? Regardless, following up on yesterday's post with illustrations to highlight the differences in performance year over year.

Largest circle, 100% opacity (ex: Meram) is a player in the top 10% of all MLS players for that year. The smaller and lighter the circle, the lower the player rating.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Meram Still Improving

click to enlarge
Dropping back in on ratings... Justin Meram is the only player on Columbus Crew SC that has seen his median game rating increase each year since 2014. That's pretty amazing considering that Columbus has been in the basement of MLS all season.

You wouldn't think it given the number of times he is subbed off. It works out to be 37 times off on 54 starts in the last two years. Regardless...

This is also a good time to remind ourselves that Meram has the ability deep inside to take over and win MLS games. He has five of the top twenty individual performances in a Crew uniform since the beginning 2013.

Game Rating: Player, Year
9.91 : Kei Kamara, 2015
9.90 : Justin Meram, 2016
9.66 : Kei Kamara, 2015
9.62 : Justin Meram, 2013
9.62 : Federico Higuaín, 2015
9.62 : Kei Kamara, 2016
9.53 : Ola Kamara, 2016
9.40 : Aaron Schoenfeld, 2014
9.28 : Ethan Finlay, 2015
9.25 : Federico Higuaín, 2013
9.14 : Federico Higuaín, 2015
9.14 : Justin Meram, 2015
9.10 : Ethan Finlay, 2015
9.09 : Kei Kamara, 2015
9.07 : Chad Marshall, 2013
9.03 : Federico Higuaín, 2013
9.00 : Gláuber, 2013
8.97 : Justin Meram, 2016
8.94 : Kei Kamara, 2015
8.93 : Justin Meram, 2014

Also, very worth noting that Meram is the highest rated Crew player of the season. 2016 Team MVP? I'll have to match up Squawka and my own ratings here in a couple months for it to be official. 


Who needs to go (and other notes on this chart...) are below:

1. Parkhurst is going. He's still got gas in the tank, but something isn't right here in Columbus. I see him returning to New England. I wrote about this recently and comments in today's paper about not being able to agree to a new deal all but seal things.

2. Ethan Finlay needs to go. For a couple reasons. One - He's going the wrong way as far a production. Blame it on a change in Kamara's or getting distracted by his USMNT call up or whatever, but good players lift teams. He hasn't done that. Right place, right time? Doesn't mean he's bad, just not working. Two - He's risen to the board of the Player's Union. Not getting into why I feel that way now, but shuffle him along if you are Columbus. Need players committed to playing. When I last looked at player performance like this I made the recommendation that he sit. Berhalter saw the same thing. It worked, he snapped back out of his funk, but there isn't enough there.

3. Steve Clark - Just needs some added pressure behind him to work. He's still a good keeper and he's going to be for a number of years. Guys like him need a spark. From a change in location, or a life change or whatever - not able to get that in Columbus now.

4. Wil Trapp - I would like to see Trapp test himself more. He's not going to get any better where he is now. Of course, Columbus can use him. They can use him for his whole career. But I don't think many want to see him becoming a Chad Marshall. There's more for him.

Reminder on whoscored ratings: Anything above 7.00 is a good player (in that particular league). 7.20 and above means the player is performing in the top 10%. Below 6.75 or so means a player in the bottom half.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

'16 Crew - Worst Ever?

Is 2016 gearing up to have the worst performing Crew team in franchise history? Comparing historical teams in sports often ends up a fruitless endeavor. In MLS, with ever changing league size, unbalanced schedules, rule changes, games played, no draws (there weren't any until 2000), etc... even more so. But there is one measurement that this year's Columbus Crew team cannot escape - their regular season record.

By this measure, 2016 Columbus Crew SC are the worst performing team in franchise history.

Let us normalize things since a MLS regular season has ranged anywhere from 26 games to 34 games over the last 21 years. We'll keep it simple. Points per Game x 34 games = Normalized Points. That will give us point totals we can compare against (vs. using PPG averages). Here we go, Best regular season to worst:

Normalized Points : Crew Season
65 : 2008
59 : 2001
57 : 2010
55 : 2004, 2009
53 : 2015
52 : 2014, 2012
48 : 1998, 1999
47 : 2011
46 : 2002
43 : 2003
42 : 2007
41 : 1997, 2013
40 : 2000, 2005
39 : 1996
35 : 2006
34 : 2016 (8 games left)

What's interesting is how far down that 2015 team is as well as how close it is to the 2014 season. I've written about it often - That 2015 team was built for MLS playoffs and were not necessarily fun (or interesting to watch). That team ended up with 2 wins and 3 loses in the playoffs as well. You hate to say that team "gamed" they MLS system, but they did.

By contrast, that 2014 team (finished about the same as 2015) was so much more fun to watch. They outplayed the competition in the regular season. Particularly, the second half of the year.

I guess the above serves as an argument for success in the MLS regular season. Teams, the better ones in particular, sometimes coast but the regular season is what fans are watching most of the time. Something to think about. MLS would be better off to increase the importance of it.


Since I've got this open, here are the top teams in MLS regular season history:

Normalized : Year Team
72 : 1998 LA Galaxy
69 : 2001 Miami Fusion
68 : 2005 San Jose
67 : 2010-11 LA, 2001 Chicago Fire
66 : 2012 San Jose
65 : 2008 Columbus Crew

....and the worst

21 : 1999 Kansas City, 2005 Salt Lake
19 : 2005 Chivas USA
18 : 2001 Tampa Bay
16 : 2013 DC United, 1999 NY Metrostars

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Quakes fire GM in wake of Crew loss

Something that you might have missed last week was the San Jose Earthquakes parting ways with long-time company man and current GM, John Doyle. The termination came the Monday ofter a loss to league bottom dwellers Columbus Crew SC.

What's interesting about this event is that I don't see much made of it over the last week. That's not to say that we should hear about it. Just that, well, nothing is out there. Well, save for this guy's comment over at

Doyle had been with the Quakes since the beginning of their latest incarnation. If you are not familiar with the franchise, you should get familiar with it. In a lot of ways, they are MLS. If you are new to MLS you know that they like to tie their history to the old NASL team. Even their twitter hashtag #Quakes74 wants you to know that - these things are not true, it'd be like me claiming Helltown Beer was founded when a town was in 1672. #Helltown1672!

Regardless. Doyle is gone and it was the loss to Columbus that was the final nail. Not the only nail, mind you, just the final.

What's interesting about this is that it highlights the ongoing low regard other MLS franchises have for Columbus. You normally see this manifest itself in star players not traveling here (never forget those "blackout the Galaxy" ads and sellout crowds that ultimately ended up watching B / C teams) or plain old snark on social media. But this latest thing from San Jose is a loud reminder of this.

Looking at like this explains a bit as to why Gregg Berhalter is still firmly entrenched in his roles with the team. It's more about him than results. He lends massive credibility via USMNT, AEG, US Soccer (brother Jay) and various other things. So much, that it's taken a couple new contracts to keep him here. It was a huge hire for Anthony Precourt and I pretty sure he is aware of what he brings and what he needs.

Lil' Baker

For the past week or so I've been living life in two to three hours chunks as my wife and I welcome in a little Baker Grace to the universe! Everyone is healthy, well and happy.