Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Rd 11, 12, 13: Midseason Inbetween

Crew Bottom
Columbus crosses unlucky round 13 with a loss to a bad New England Revs team on the road. This team is better than that, but as we enter the middle part of the season we are starting to see this very familiar lackadaisical side of each Crew side to come out during the Gregg Berhalter reign.

Different levels of effort, varying levels of interest. It's all here.

After a strong (fueled by a heavy home schedule) start, Columbus has all the sudden hit some hard times that are punctuated by a 3 point, three game home stand and uneven results in the last two away matches. Pulling back a bit, it's 6 points out of the last six. Not good. But par for the course that Berhalter plays on this time of year. Thus the lack of summaries from Helltown.

It sucks. As a matter of fact, it sucks the life out of things. After an amazing attendance year last year, Columbus is now last in MLS while sporting the worse year of year drop.

Is it possible that fans in Columbus are tired of the same old run of results they expect from this team? After all, this is a town that responds to winning. Case in point is the year after a Crew MLS Cup run, but now we have a year after a historically bad Crew year and fans are deciding to not show up.

It's difficult to determine what Columbus needs to do to get people back interested. With the way this particular market is, there may be nothing that can be done until the calendar turns to 2018.

What would help is having an exciting team but in order to have such a thing in Columbus you need to get on a huge run of results and be able to score 3+ goals a game. Nobody sees that happening with this team.

All this raises the question. Should Anthony Precourt look for a change? Generate some excitement, even if misguided, in town? Berhalter has a long career ahead of him and can call his shots on the US Soccer scene until the end of days, but is he the right person for this market. After all, isn't that what MLS is all about?

Columbus faces more MLS teams here over the next few weeks. The only thing to look forward to is the possibility of USL Cincinnati coming to town for the US Open cup later this summer.

Until then? 2017 Crew is an average team with Justin Meram and Ola Kamara, looking down the barrel of an uninspiring rest of the season.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Rd 10: Win against incomplete team

Columbus took care of a team taking the year off in New England. That's a good thing. Crew SC should be beating New England. Everyone should be beating New England. That's not to say the game didn't have to be played. It did. Crew took care of business.

Gregg Berhalter was ejected and suspended for one game for kicking a ball at an opposing team player.

Above is the current MLS true table.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Rd 9: Season Settles In

Reg season intensity level
We have reached the part of the season where players are in game shape and hitting, for better or worse, some kind of form. Goals are better. Interplay is better. Overall, just better. So when two teams that attempt to prepare and play a specific style (instead of just running around out there) it opens up.

This was the case when NYCFC traveled to Columbus last Saturday to take on Crew SC. 

It isn't to say that the game was a thing of beauty or one to remember. The defending by both teams was poor. It was more fun than many of the other games, but in the end, it was just a game that marked 1/4 of the season complete.

Columbus lost. They are working through injuries and lack of chemistry that comes with that (Mensah and Artur the two key guys there), are not settled in the right midfield and have a player kicking up dust about playing time. All these things are ingredients needed to give up leads in games.

These same ingredients are used in making a team mediocre, which seems to be the case with Crew SC at the moment. There is just too much noise right now for the team to be anything but average. 

With a quarter of the season complete we are now entering the patchy summer portion of the calendar where teams without depth (ie. most MLS teams) have wild quality swings game to game. Gregg Berhalter and crew will do their best to keep it together and above the playoff line. Which, now that that is typed, seems all that this season will be about.

Of note: Abu, Trapp, Mensah and Naess did not click in this game. The quality of play between these four is critically important to the success of Crew SC. It's not to say these players are not good, but there are concerns about turnover game to game. Stability is needed in order for it to work well.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

All Paid Crew Players since 2010

Here is a look at total wages paid to each player wearing a Crew uniform, 2010 (when the 2008 MLS Cup winning team was blown up) till now. It's not perfect, of course (being MLS - players leaving half year or use of allocation or just... MLS), but it gives us a good enough idea who has pulled in the most money.

Total Wages : Player : Years Paid
$4,748,000 : Federico Higuain : 5
$1,802,138 : Gaston Sauro : 3
$1,342,500 : Chad Marshall : 4
$1,211,333 : Tony Tchani : 6
$998,222 : Justin Meram : 7
$971,750 : Wil Trapp : 5
$940,000 : Ola Kamara : 2
$916,508 : Dilaver Duka : 5
$900,000 : Michael Parkhurst : 3
$869,648 : Ethan Finlay : 6
$844,000 : Jonathan Mensah : 1
$835,833 : Andres Mendoza : 2
$790,208 : Eddie Gaven : 4
$775,917 : Waylon Francis : 4
$738,333 : Harrison Afful : 3
$635,000 : Emanuel Pogatetz : 2
$576,600 : Danny O'Rourke : 4
$565,000 : Steve Clark : 3
$536,667 : Kei Kamara : 1
$483,529 : Cedrick Mabwati : 2
$480,500 : William Hesmer : 3
$450,004 : Nicolai Naess : 2
$420,000 : Hector Jimenez : 4
$399,500 : Emmanuel Ekpo : 2
$385,000 : Tyson Wahl : 4
$373,417 : Josh Williams : 5
$365,625 : Emilio Renteria : 3
$360,375 : Jairo Arrieta : 2
$334,167 : Jack McInerney : 1
$279,220 : Andy Gruenebaum : 4
$276,250 : Ben Swanson : 3
$273,333 : Agustin Viana : 2
$263,333 : Glauber Berti : 1
$255,000 : Sebastian Miranda : 2
$255,000 : Robbie Rogers : 2
$253,455 : Ben Speas : 4
$241,250 : Guillermo Barros Schelotto : 1
$230,000 : Mohammed Saeid : 2
$230,000 : Matias Sanchez : 1
$223,333 : Milovan Mirosevic : 1
$218,325 : Chad Barson : 4
$211,500 : Aaron Horton : 3
$205,008 : Zack Steffen : 2
$199,325 : Matt Lampson : 4
$190,000 : Gino Padula : 1
$189,075 : Aaron Schoenfeld : 4
$189,075 : Kevan George : 4
$181,425 : Bernardo Anor : 4
$175,000 : Emil Larsen : 1
$175,000 : Olman Vargas : 1
$172,169 : Julius James : 2
$171,925 : Eric Gehrig : 4
$171,500 : Brad Stuver : 3
$171,250 : Mohammed Abu : 1
$170,496 : Dejan Rusmir : 1
$168,375 : Kekuta Manneh : 1
$161,671 : Jukka Raitala : 1
$160,000 : Adam Jahn : 2
$152,500 : Jeffrey Cunningham : 1
$144,319 : Brian Carroll : 1
$137,141 : Cristian Martinez : 2
$128,125 : Rodrigo Saravia : 2
$127,500 : Frankie Hejduk : 1
$127,450 : Rich Balchan : 2
$126,100 : Shaun Francis : 3
$125,500 : Nemanja Vukovich : 1
$122,015 : Dominic Oduro : 1
$119,438 : Kristinn Steindorsson : 1
$115,306 : Romain Gall : 2
$109,000 : Chris Birchall : 1
$106,209 : Carlos Mendes : 1
$105,575 : Marshall Hollingsworth : 2
$105,500 : Corey Ashe : 1
$105,000 : Conor Casey : 1
$99,879 : Artur De Lima Junior : 1
$89,250 : Tommy Heinemann : 2
$87,802 : Chris Klute : 1
$86,100 : Cole Grossman : 2
$82,000 : Kevin Burns : 2
$80,350 : Korey Veeder : 2
$76,667 : Daniel Paladini : 1
$76,250 : Jason Garey : 1
$74,000 : Ryan Finley : 1
$72,500 : Alhassan "Lalas" Abubakar : 1
$72,500 : Nikolaj Hansen : 1
$71,110 : Andy Iro : 1
$65,004 : Abuchi Obinwa : 1
$60,000 : Sagi Lev-Ari : 1
$53,004 : Connor Maloney : 1
$53,004 : Logan Ketterer : 1
$52,500 : Sergio Campbell : 1
$51,500 : Matt Pacifici : 1
$50,400 : Adam Moffat : 1
$49,200 : Joshua Gardner : 1
$48,500 : Matt Wiet : 1
$48,500 : Ben Sweat : 1
$46,500 : Konrad Warzycha : 1
$42,333 : Steven Lenhart : 1
$40,008 : Leandre Griffit : 1
$40,000 : Duncan Oughton : 1
$40,000 : Eric Brunner : 1
$36,504 : Adam Bedell : 1
$36,504 : Kingsley Baiden : 1
$36,500 : Ross Friedman : 1
$36,500 : Matt Walker : 1
$35,125 : Kyle Hyland : 1
$35,125 : Daniel Withrow : 1
$35,125 : Shawn Sloan : 1
$35,125 : Drew Beckie : 1
$33,750 : Aubrey Perry : 1
$33,750 : Kirk Urso : 1
$32,600 : Ben Sippola : 1
$32,600 : Alex Riggs : 1
$32,600 : Santiago Prim : 1


Monday, April 24, 2017

Growing Attendance Problem in MLS

Early season MLS action can best be described as an exhibition. On the "Joe Sports sport's calendar," it falls right in the middle of March Madness, the start of MLB and the NBA and NHL playoffs. You could say that there just isn't time for regular season soccer games, but that's nothing but excuses. Soccer fans in the US are watching EPL games, Liga MX and La Liga and droves. "Joe Sport" is a casual fan, not a soccer fan.

MLS has a problem, in that regard. They just want to nestle into the regular sport's fan here in the United States yet try and play the world game. It's a fence that the league has always had a hard time straddling. And now that the league is launching into rapid expansion mode, there is a hyper focus on the actual health of existing teams.

Read more HERE
Fan engagement, attendance and TV ratings are key components of a successful league. MLS is failing on the latter two.

Highlighted in yellow below are the games of which there were barely 10k people show up. MLS, like other leagues in the US, uses tickets distributed number. The problem the league is having is that the distance between that number in butts in seats is ridiculously off.

Result...Home..v..Away : Venue
3-3...Philadelphia..v..Montreal : Talen Energy Stadium
2-0...Houston..v..San Jose : BBVA Compass Stadium
2-1...Portland..v..Vancouver : Providence Park
2-2...New England..v..D.C. : Gillette Stadium
2-0...New York..v..Columbus : Red Bull Arena
1-0...FC Dallas..v..Sporting KC : Toyota Stadium
1-3...Real Salt Lake..v..Atlanta : Rio Tinto Stadium
1-2...New York City FC..v..Orlando City SC : Yankee Stadium
0-3...Los Angeles..v..Seattle : StubHub Center
1-0...Minnesota..v..Colorado : TCF Bank Stadium

Here are a few more shots from the weekend. This is a problem for a league looking to expand into more markets. It's possible that these images could even be used by communities to argue against bringing a team in. Not to mention blowing holes into the $150 million expansion fee MLS is asking.

Things aren't adding up. At some point, just like announced attendance figures need to be closer to how many folks show up, MLS hype has to match their reality.

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I recently looked at how much MLS inflates attendance by market HERE.













Sunday, April 23, 2017

Rd 8: Injuries = Loss

Columbus traveled to Red Bull Arena for their eighth game of the season. Not only was it a loss, it was one that may impact team results for the next few games because of injuries. A double-whammy, if you will.

Artur, who had been performing pretty well in the midfield, appears to have broken wrist/arm not long after kickoff. The injury completely threw Crew SC off their game. His sub, Mohammed Abu, came in in support but it took him a good chunk of the game to get comfortable. Note here on Abu: Fans immediately took to disliking him. It's like fans have to have at least one player they do not like.

NY came in with the high press type of approach that gives Gregg Berhalter's team fits, so it's difficult to tell if it was the Artur injury or the pressure and intensity of NY that got Columbus on the ropes.

After getting a goal early, NY doubled their lead off a miserable challenge in the box by Alex Crognale. Adding insult to injury (literally), Crognale injured himself trying to make the play. I have a feeling that his ego was also damaged on the play. This is what you get with inexperienced college players. They tend to have strengths that they focus on, but eventually, the truth of their ability comes out. This was one such play.

The other college player to mention alongside Crognale is Niko Hansen, who had a horrid game. Both players have worked for their time in the line up off of good play but they were going up against a good opponent who have some sort of pre-game planning (you'd be surprised at how many do not). Players who are not well rounded (ie. college players) get completely exposed.

It's important to note that this is where having a place to put players like Hansen and Crognale come into play. An affiliate isn't the right place. Having a "B" team or "II" is better. In a perfect world, there would be free movement between divisions and leagues in the US without all the roster restrictions and we could get a lot more out of players like these guys. Sadly, we might have just seen the best we will ever see out of these guys after such a high the previous weekend.

Regardless. Columbus is still in okay shape, as far as their record goes. It's just a loss. That said. The damage done here might be in losing Artur for a bit. Abu, even if he were a great player, will need an adjustment period.

Crew have the next three at home, however. It'll give them time so sort the loss of Artur and figure out if Ethan Finlay is worth starting again.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Rd 7: Burying the Ghost of 16

Columbus Crew SC defeated Columbus Crew SC of last year (Toronto FC standing in) at Crew Stadium this past weekend.

Toronto is coming off a similar MLS Cup loss hangover as Columbus was last year. The similarities are there after the devastating loss along with a shortened offseason. Crew SC this year was up to the challenge of burying a nasty ghost from last year by holding a lead all the way through the second half.

This game has the markings of two teams splitting off into completely different directions. Toronto's season looked wanted to break one way or another and Columbus was looking to firm up their believe that they can compete with the best near the top of the table this year.

It wasn't a particularly good looking game for Columbus. 1st-year players Niko Hansen and Alex Grognale had nice games (both with assists), but outside of that the two teams looked fairly even save for the discipline and desire to win in the second half.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Rd 6: Missing Pieces = Loss

Columbus traveled to Bridgeview last weekend without three key starters and lost in an uneven match. Three wins was enough for Gregg Berhalter's side as he opted to look at the long term instead of a relatively meaningless early-season match.

Federico Higuain, Harrison Afful and Jonathan Mensah sat out the match for various non-serious injuries. From the outside, it looks like it was better to get them healed up versus risking further injury in a stadium that the team has never performed well in. The basic question was asked; "Do we need this game?" The clear answer was a firm "no."

It's likely the smart move considering the team just ripped off 9 points in the previous 3 games. The team proved they could play well and find themselves near the top of the table with breathing room. With no urgency to win the East or even the league, it is more about jockeying for a position near the top of the table and staying there.

What this tells is is the Berhalter is confident in his team at full strength and that he'll get the wins he needs on down the road. Time will tell if this is the correct approach. With 3 wins in 6 games, and the near fact that 12 wins will probably get his team into the playoffs, the team is in fine shape.

Pulling back to the bigger picture. MLS rosters are thin. Missing one key player sets you back. Missing three - you're done.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Updated Helltown Ratings

13.2% of the MLS season is complete, which means it's time to update my player ratings (on the right-hand side of the desktop version of this site). First up are my team rankings so far. It's based on individual player ranking.

OverallTeamDFGKMF
100Atlanta100829996
91FC Dallas91796792
91Sporting KC97668494
89Portland79749794
88New York City FC796493100
86Orlando City SC781009076
86San Jose98718380
86Columbus73689497
82Toronto FC86706281
80Houston915510079
74New England76557773
73Colorado78565673
73Seattle65678173
65Philadelphia63496567
64New York61535665
64Chicago76567652
62Montreal61457066
61D.C.65476859
58Vancouver60573958
52Los Angeles52324462
50Real Salt Lake50414251
41Minnesota3972848

And here are my top 20 players so far:

Player ScorePlayer Name(TEAM)Pos
10.00Erick TorresHoustonF
9.64Diego ValeriPortlandMF
9.64Fanendo AdiPortlandF
9.34AlexHoustonMF
9.23David VillaNew York City FCF
8.96Yamil AsadAtlantaF
8.89Cyle LarinOrlando City SCF
8.80Josef MartínezAtlantaF
8.54Maximiliano MoralezNew York City FCMF
8.54Justin MeramColumbusMF
8.41Miguel AlmirónAtlantaMF
8.28Gregory GarzaAtlantaD
8.24Federico HiguainColumbusMF
8.23Diego CharaPortlandMF
8.23Lawrence OlumPortlandD
8.18Tyrone MearsAtlantaD
8.14Ola KamaraColumbusF
8.12Héctor VillalbaAtlantaF
8.11Sebastián BlancoPortlandMF
8.10Alvas PowellPortlandD

There has been a change the last couple years in MLS. Defending has changed. I'm not sure if it is the fact that defending is just not as good (less investment in that area) or if tracking has changed (STATS, inc). Either way, My formula has not changed since 2011. It has served me well.
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Of note for Crew SC fans - Justin Meram and Higuain popping up here is a good thing (along with the above average team grade). The team never really got off off the ground last year. Good start this year.

SI Cover Change






























































Monday, April 3, 2017

Rd 5. Crew Navigate to 3 in a Row

Columbus Crew SC moves past Orlando City SC to notch a third win in a row. A brace from Justin Meram, who is in incredible form, was the difference this week.

The overriding story this week is the simple fact that Columbus finally achieved a third win in a row. Two in a row was a hurdle that the Crew hadn't jumped over since the end of the 2014 season.

Between 2013-2016 MLS seasons, three wins were the high water mark for teams 25 times (most frequent). Columbus and Portland, 2015 MLS Cup finalists, are the only teams thus far in 2017 to have reached that mark.

The achievement is something I've been looking for this season. It might not be much of an indicator of success later in the season, it does show me that the team is putting forth the extra effort this year to right the many wrongs of last year.

One asterisk to this streak is that it occurred over a swiss cheese like MLS schedule due to an important international break. While that might tarnish it a bit, it isn't much. Navigating a lumpy competition is part of the deal with this league.