Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Top Passers in the USL, 2018



The USL regular season has wrapped up, so I decided to dig into the wealth of data available on their site. First up - Passing.

The better passers you have on the team the better your possession. This means you can dictate more of the game. Do what you want to do instead of having it done to you. If that makes any sense.

Along with a couple of charts, I want to get to what it means to have good passers on your team. How I did this - take a few measurements that Opta has pulled out of USL games. Those categories:

1. Total Passes
2. Pass Completion %
3. % Complete in Opposition Half
4. Long Pass % Complete

Here are the top 12 players when you take the rank in each of those categories:

Having the better passers in the league should mean you have a better team. Obviously, that's not always the case, but let's put it to the test real quick.

By my count, there are 527 players that have managed over 900 minutes this year. If we take to top 20% passers (which works out to be about 100 players) and match them up with their team records, we should see a relationship.

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Pos.CityPWLTGDPtsTop Passers
1Cincinnati34233838774
2Orange County SC34208630666
3Louisville City34196933665
4Sacramento Republic34197815653
5Phoenix Rising34199625631
6Real Monarchs34191238609
8Reno 1868341671118596
7Pittsburgh Riverhounds341551421592
9Charleston Battery341461413563
10Portland Timbers 234171349554
12Saint Louis34149116534
11Swope Park Rangers3415118-1533
13New York Red Bulls II341381312520
14Bethlehem Steel341412815502
15San Antonio3414128-3501
17Nashville SC341291311494
16Indy Eleven341311103491
18North Carolina FC341313810477
19Ottawa Fury3413156-12450
20OKC Energy3412157-3434
21Charlotte Independence34101212-13426
22Tampa Bay Rowdies34111580415
24Fresno FC34913126393
23Colorado Springs3411176-3392
25Rio Grande Valley3481214-6382
26Penn FC3491510-9371
27LA Galaxy II3410177-7371
28Atlanta United 23471710-35317
29Las Vegas Lights FC348197-24310
30Seattle Sounders 2346217-31252
31Richmond Kickers346244-50223
32Tulsa Roughnecks3431912-41212
33Toronto II344246-35182


Great, it works out (mostly).

- Top 5 average 4 players in the top 20% of all passers in the league.
- Middle group has 3
- Bottom averages 2.

Or, to put it another way. Average points earned if you have +5 top passers is 52. If you have 2 or less? Those teams averaged 41 pts. 11 point difference. Find passers everyone.

Below will be a more straightforward look at the top passers in the USL for 2018. Total passes / Overall Completion %.





SPECIAL PLAYER CALLOUTS 

The United Soccer League isn't looked at as a pathway to a higher league. Part of that is exposure, part of that is the way soccer is structured in the United States. That said, here are some players that warrant a closer look.
1. Graham Smith, North Carolina FC. DM, 24 years old Graham is in the top 20% in all my categories. Notably 5th in passing in the opponents half of the field. At 24, he's reaching mid-career without a whole lot of professional experience, but what he's done in his first USL season is impressive.  

2. Boluwatife Akinyode, Nashville, DM, 24 years old Another defensive mid and ranked first in Pass% and % complete in the opposition half. He's been bouncing around the NY Red Bulls system for years, with stops at Bethlehem and NCFC. Currently mired in mid-table nowhere's ville Nashville, he's definitely worth a closer look.  

3. Justin Portillo, Real Monarchs, MF, 26 years old Justin spent quite a bit of time with the Charleston Battery and has struck gold in the USL. the Monarchs have 9 players in the top 20% according to my measurement, he tops the list.
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There are two Graham Smith's in the USL. The other plays off and on for Swope Park as well as MLS Sporting KC. Both are good players, but the NCFC one is better (at least in terms of the 2018 USL season).

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Columbus Crew Saved?


It appears that the Columbus Crew have been saved by a potential new investment team comprised of Cleveland Browns owner (Dee and) Jimmy Haslam along with longtime Crew physician Pete Edwards.

A rumor emerged somewhere over on the "big soccer" message boards late last week that a deal had been struck and provided further detail into what, how and when. Like these things tend to do, it spread like a wildfire that ultimately led to a local brewery named Endeavor opening it's doors early on Friday, October 12.

Crowds gathered there to await official word that they figured was sure to come.

I was curious enough in what was going on to make the trip to Endeavor myself to see what was up. Sure enough, a moderately sized crowd was there decked out and Crew gear milling about in front of "save the crew" banners. Two local news teams were on the scene (channel 10 and ABC 6) to cover the action, as well.

Once I squeezed in the doors, I started scanning the crowd looking for I don't know what. I figured if it was an NFL owner involved there would be a massive contingent of sharply dressed team officials and media there - but there was not. MLS officials aren't normally as sharp as NFL, but they are fairly easy to spot - and they didn't appear to be there. Or if they were, they were there as fans.

Patrick Murphy - Reporter
The only "official" person I could spot was Josh Williams, who has been with the team for the better part of the last decade.

It was a bizarre scene. Fans and media showing up just because of a rumor. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted some familiar faces like former Massive Report podcast mate Chris LaMacchia and local beat writers Patrick Murphy (Massive Report) and Andrew King (MLS). I headed over to get some info, but none was to be found. Turns out, they were in the dark just as much as anyone else.

The only concrete info I could find was that Josh Williams just decided to show up because he "heard something was up." Anyone familiar with Josh knows that if there was even a hint of his hometown NFL team being involved, he would be there. As a matter of fact, he might not have even heard. That team is so ingrained into its people, it was likely just instinctual for the northeast Ohio native. His feet could have just started carrying him in that direction without his conscience even knowing what was going on.

Rumors of an official announcement from Alex Fischer, local business leader and often voice of potential new leadership popped up, but it got pushed back. Then rumor of the Browns making a statement came and went.

At this point, it was clear that the official parties involved (MLS, new ownership) were not ready to make an announcement. Columbus Crew fans were ready, however. They were goddamn ready,  thus creating the most fascinating thing about what happened that day - the gathering at Endeavor got so much attention that it forced an official reaction. Power to the fans.



Here is a summary: MLS came out strong in support of what was going on down in Austin and confirmed talks with a new group. The potential local ownership group confirmed interest and advanced negotiations... and released a bizarre statement through a Browns twitter feed, that in part said they were "hopeful to be a part of the solution to keep the team," and "We would invest in a strong infrastructure within the Crew organization so that we can continue our focus and commitment to building a winning Cleveland Browns football team."

Jimmy Haslam has long wanted a training facility in Columbus, so it appears his involvement is basically to get that done. Based on the team statement, that is.

None of this suggests it is a done deal, but it looks positive for folks that want to keep the team in town and boy did they celebrate. As they should. It's been a long year for them.

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At this point, it looks like MLS is okay with selling the Crew brand to Haslam and Edwards and letting Anthony Precourt work out things in Austin, but neither part appears to be complete. At worst, it is Don Garber and MLS meeting requirements to settle the suit with the state about moving the team.

WHAT'S NEXT

It's gotten late in the game for MLS to do anything in both Austin and Columbus for 2019. I expect the negotiations between MLS and new ownership to drag on and Austin to not field a team next year. What this means is that there is a possibility that Columbus could be, in part, run by the league next year.

Monday, September 24, 2018

The Greatest vs. Modern NBA


A couple weeks ago David Burgin (@ViddaGrubin) made a request of myself (@helltownbeer) and @hangthadj. Draft your five greatest / favorite players in NBA history. So we did. It was fun.

David mused about these teams playing each other. Turns out it's possible to sim this competition within NBA2K19. Game in hand, I did just that by creating the teams we selected and dropping them into the 2018-19 NBA season.

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Here are the teams:

@ViddaGrubin - Boston Celtics
Oscar Robertson
Bill Russell
Pete Maravich
Dennis Rodman
Lebron James

Bench:
Steph Curry, Michael Cooper, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Reggie Miller, Kevin Garnett, Clark Kellog, Scottie Pippen

@hangthadj - Philadelphia 76ers
Wilt Chamberlin
Michael Jordan
Dirk Nowitzki
Elgin Baylor
Magic Johnson

Bench:
Allen Iverson, Fat Lever, Shaq (Lakers), Oscar Robertson, Bernard King, Mo Cheeks, Adrian Dantley

@helltownbeer - Washington Wizards
Isaiah Thomas
Larry Bird
Fred Gervin
Moses Malone
Shaquille O'Neal (Orlando)

Bench:
Jerry West, Dr. J, Mark Price, '99 Vince Carter, Kevin McHale, Pearl Monroe




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START IT UP
I wasn't exactly sure what to expect once I ran the simulation, but as the first few months passed -things became clear.

After loading up the rosters, I started the season in normal, modern conferences. 2K's simulation detail is legendary, so I thought I'd have to wrestle with the salary cap a bit to get it going but turns out it just let me blow past it. Which is good, because each of our teams did - by about $100 million dollars each. Past that, I pretty much left the player minute recommendations as the computer wanted, as well as who started.

How did the teams start?  Our teams completely dominated. The only losses we had were when we (Celtics, 76ers, Wizards) played themselves (ourselves?). I knew the teams would be over the top good, but I figured the game would throw in an injury or two as the season went on to level things out. Outside of Mark Price getting an ankle for my team, the injury report was clear.

At first, I was simulating by week, but as the first few months went on I could tell which was this was going. Every once in a while I'd pop into a live match and watch for fun. Other times I'd watch them from the live sim. This game is immense.

What struck me when popping in to check both basic and advanced statistics was how balanced each team was. Each starter was averaging in the teens to low 20s in points. In fact, no started on either of our teams averaged over 20 points, save for a 25-year-old Lebron James (20.4 ppg).

Once I hit December of 2018 our three teams were looking incredible. The 76ers lead the way but only by virtue of having more games played than the Wizards (me). Here's how it looked Dec. 1, 2018...

1. 76ers : 23-1
2. Wizards: 21-1
3. Celtics: 20-2

At this point, I still figured the other teams would hang around, and they were kinda. Toronto and the Bucks only had 7 losses, but the writing was on the wall for the rest of the East. It was going to be a season for the GREATS.

December marks the real start of the NBA season so I drifted in on games more often. It was fun to watch players like Wilt and Moses Malone matching up against today's stars. More fun yet, was watching them dominate the other teams.

Once January came, I realized the regular season was over. There was no catching our three teams, so a sim to the end of the regular season, I did. Here is a snapshot of the wreckage left in the Great's wake:

Place. Team : Record ... PPG - PAPG
1. Celtics : 79-3 ... 128.3 - 95.7 (+32.8)
2. 76ers : 77-5 ... 125.9 - 94.5 (+31.4)
3. Wizards : 75-7 ... 124.0 - 98.6 (+25.4)

Now that the season is over I realized that The Iceman led Wizards weren't going to cut it in the playoffs. What surprised me was that the 76ers were led by a balanced Elgin Baylor 17.1 ppg and nearly 7 boards and 7 assists per game and not Jordan (16, 3 and 6). Oh, and then there was Magic. He wound up as the Regular Season MVP.

The Celtics regular season was led by the 25 yo Lebron and a slightly younger-than-now Steph Curry. Modern players playing in a modern game. That said, Magic balanced it out and the talent gap between @ViddaGrubin's Celtics and @hangthadj's Sixers appeared to be fairly thin.


THE PLAYOFFS ARE HERE
We are all in the Eastern Conference, so let's see which one of our teams are taking on (present day) Steph Curry and his Warriors or OR (present day) LeBron's Lakers in the Finals.

While in the playoffs I just took it one game at a time. The excitement of it all got to me and I wanted to walk through it. Turns out it wasn't needed. Each of our teams ran through the first round without a loss 12-0.

The second round saw me matched up with Hang's 76ers. I figured I had a shot, but it wasn't to be. The Sixers ability to play without a true center was too much for my slow team. Nowitzki and Magic could match up with my Malone and (Orlando Magic era) O'Neal. It got worse for me off the bench because Hang had Laker's O'Neal to put in.

In the end, my Wizards put up a good fight by taking the series to 7 games. This result predictably set up a Celtics / Sixers Conf Final.

Which means! This is the matchup we've been waiting for. The one to decide who had the best team out of our Twitter picks.

Okay, David's Celtics won. 4 games to 2. What ended up happening, at least in my opinion, is the 7 game series in the previous round broke Hang's 76ers. So, you're welcome David.




The Celtics went on to beat the Warriors in 4.

This was fun, congrats David.

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Here are some shots of stats and what not:









Friday, August 17, 2018

MLS is Using My Blueprint (I Want Compensation)

MLS is Following My Blueprint
(I want compensation)
By: Vidda Grubin

This will be short. Enjoy! (i lied it is not short)

I have written on a number of occasions about the need for both an August to June soccer season and promotion/relegation. I have also stated what would need to happen for both to be successful.

This post isn’t about promotion and relegation. (the sentence prior to this is a tiny lie)

Simply put. An August to June schedule is easily achievable in North America (and Major League Soccer is quickly moving that direction) if…

Half the franchises in the league are located in the Southern half of the United States and half the franchises are located in the Northern half of the United States and Canada.

Reasons August to June works under the half and half scenario:

1. The first few games can be played at the home fields of the franchises located in the Northern half of the United States and Canada. Hot games, but not as hot as August games in Texas and Florida.

2. The fall portion of the season would run until the weekend prior to Christmas. Allowing franchises to comfortably play at all venues after August.

3. Allows for a holiday break (Christmas thru Mid January).

4. A league wide winter league/winter training can be run in places like Southern California, Florida, Las Vegas, Arizona and South Texas (much like the NBA summer league in Las Vegas) for two weeks at the end of January.

5. The restart of the league season can begin February 1st, and first few games can be played at the home fields of the franchises located in the Southern half of the United States.

6. Season/Playoffs end June 1st.

7. This schedule consists of approximately 38 calendar weeks, in regards to the actual league season, and does not include the approximately three weeks of holiday break and two weeks of winter league/winter training.

8. Teams would be aligned in three divisions of 12. Western—Central—Eastern. Each division split evenly (six franchises in the north and six franchises in the south).

Current/Near Future MLS alignment: 

Northwest Conference: Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, Salt Lake, Colorado, Boise?

Southwest Conference: LA, LA, San Jose, San Diego, Las Vegas?, Arizona?

North Central: Minnesota, Kansas City, Chicago, Columbus, Nashville, Cincinnati

South Central: Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, New Orleans?, Birmingham?

North East: Toronto, Montreal, New England, New York, New York, D.C.

South East: Atlanta, Orlando, Miami, Tampa?, Jacksonville?, Charlotte?

8a. Play all teams in your division home and away for 22 games. Play six to eight teams from each of the other divisions for a total of 12-16 more games (depends on how many league games the MLS decides it wants). Total games in season: 34-38.

9. Playoffs would be down and dirty and follow a bracket format. Top four in each division auto-qualify. Next four best records qualify. 16 team bracket format ensues with won/loss records being the criteria for placing each franchise on the bracket. 1 v 16, 2 v 15, 3 v 14, etc. Games always played at home of team with best record. Single game first round on a Saturday. Single game quarter-final on Wednesday. Single game semi-finals on Sunday. Championship final on following Sunday. Two weeks total for playoffs.

Finally, why I believe MLS is quickly moving this direction.

1. They want more locally viable rivalries.

2. The franchises they are moving/adding achieves what I’m writing about.

3. (I know I said this wasn’t about pro/rel, but I can’t help myself. Just this one bullet point) MLS structured as above allows for two lower league clubs to earn their way into each six club northern and southern conference, making for eight club top league conferences. These two clubs would only move up after top league finishes filling out the twelve team divisions and a viable 16 club lower league is established in each conference’s geographical region.

3a. (cheating here and splitting up the bullet point) After expanding to 8 clubs per conference, top league regular season play would remain the same; divisional home and away (30 games), remaining games split between other division clubs (pick your poison, my choice would be year to year rotation with conferences playing all eight teams from another conference).

3b. (still cheating here) USSF/Players Association/Consortium of Professional Club Owners could then institute pro/rel on regional conference basis. Relegation from the top league would be based solely on games between clubs in the same conference (14 games). Bottom club auto relegated, next to bottom club plays home and away with second place club from regional league below.

Some advantageous things about this model: 

1. There is room for growth, up to 36 teams and even 48 teams in the top league (this is an expansive country).

1a. Comes much closer to mirroring the small-nation, short travel, club culture seen around the world.

1b. Many more geographic rivals.

2. August to June season is easily achievable/doable.


3. (cheating) Promotion/Relegation would see all lower leagues sharing the same geographic boundaries as the top league’s conference boundaries (so a total of six regional leagues in each tier). 16 clubs per regional league would have a typical year see half the teams in each lower regional league fighting a promotion or relegation battle. Plus, with only 30 games to play, the lower regional leagues can start the spring half of the season later (Mid-March), thereby not having to worry about the worst of the winter weather.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

MLS Winnings Since 2015

Per the info given out by the last CBA, MLS winnings based on performance, by team, since 2015 (includes this season) is below. It's not much money.



Here's the top 10 teams, by season, by winnings:

Total : Year : Team
$660,000 : 2017 : Toronto FC
$512,500 : 2016 : FC Dallas
$475,000 : 2016 : Seattle Sounders FC
$447,500 : 2015 : Portland Timbers
$355,000 : 2015 : Sporting Kansas City
$340,000 : 2017 : Sporting Kansas City
$245,000 : 2015 : New York Red Bulls
$220,000 : 2017 : New York Red Bulls
$215,000 : 2016 : Toronto FC
$190,000 : 2015 : FC Dallas

Average winnings for a player per year is about $5,000 extra. Players from top teams for the season range from about 8k to 25k (the monster TFC season last year, way out of the ordinary when you consider the top starts at 660k and number 10 is 190k).

MLS pays out about $1 million in winnings a year to players.

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Here is the $ breakdown:

MLS Cup champion: $275,000, per team

MLS Cup runner-up: $80,000, per team



Supporters’ Shield winner: $55,000, per team — increases to $130,000, per team (2017-19)

Regular season conference champion: $35,000, per team

Other playoff qualifiers: $20,000, per team



Regular season matches: $7,500 win bonus, per team (distributed monthly)

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CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

CCL champion: $50,000

CCL runner-up: $45,000

CCL losing semifinalist: $40,000

CCL losing quarterfinalist: $35,000



Group stage qualification: $40,000

Group stage win: $4,000

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OTHER TOURNAMENTS

Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup winner: $250,000, per team (payable by U.S. Soccer)

Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup runner-up: $60,000, per team (payable by U.S. Soccer)



Canadian Championship winner: $50,000, per team (payable by Canadian Soccer Association)

Sunday, August 5, 2018

RANK: Which games matter, MLS

[1] CONCACAF Champions League - The games matter, it's difficult to gain entry and the upside to getting results is big for MLS teams.

[2] US Open Cup games - it's a straight up knock out tournament and the only thing linking together both US soccer history and the fractured pyramid.

[3] Pre-Season Tournaments - I regularly attend these. Orlando, Charleston. They are some of the most competitive games I have seen. Also, they get lower league and foreign teams involved, making it more exciting.

[4] Summer Friendlies - these games are usually good and feature most of the MLS starters. Contrary to popular belief, the players from MLS do try hard in these games.

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[5] MLS Cup, Conference Finals - getting here is a slog in MLS, but doing so puts you on the map. Both legs important, the second leg most important.

[6] Regular season games, Sept-October - last push to finish the year strong. Usually get a better effort from players.

[7] MLS Cup Final - it's a well-earned match for the teams that make it, but by the time it comes - after a Swiss cheese playoff format, coaches and the media are ready for the season to end. Cup finals across the world can sometimes be dull, this MLS version usually hit's that mark.

[8] Playing ESPN MLS extra time on the PS2 - only league specific video game made. It's fun and features Crew Stadium and tarped off stadiums in the rest of the league.

[9] Regular season, March-May

[10] Regular season, June-August - dog days of MLS. You have oppressive heat as well as various international tournaments pulling the better players away. Older stars often just take time off.

[11] Games involving New England Revs, Houston Dynamo and the Colorado Rapids.

[12] When a team from the eastern time zone plays out west late at night. I looked at this a couple years ago. It's basically the away side starting a goal down. East teams win about 1 in 10. It's a ridiculous advantage and players just want to hear the final whistle.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

MLS in the English Football Pyramid


A frequent conversation you see on social media between strangers is where MLS teams would fall were they to take part in the mighty English football league system.

Where you fall in this argument essentially depends on your affection for MLS. So let's start there, the definition of who a fan of the league is.

MLS fans, to this day, are recycled fans of other US sports. It is unusual to find a lifelong, soccer 1st fan making MLS their league of choice for any long period of time. Contrary to popular belief, soccer 1st folks, whether they came to the sport later in life or were born with a ball at their feet, do watch MLS. It's just that they have a better understanding of its place, globally. This isn't a knock, same goes for folks that have traveled extensively have a more rounded global perspective.

As with anything, there is a bias built in. Like MLS? Well, you probably think it would have a few teams popping up into the top level of English football. Luke-warm on MLS, "hey, they'd compete pretty well in the Championship," and so on down the line.

Me, personally? I'm a lifelong fan of the sport that was excited when MLS launched - forgot about the league in the mid-2000s - rediscovered it in 2008 - got excited when Garber talked about Promotion and Relegation in 2010 and decided to cover the local MLS team, which I did continuously for eight years (I challenge you to find any blogger covering it longer).

Now, with my MLS credentials laid out there - where do I think MLS teams would fall in England and their 11 tiers and 7,000 odd teams?

League 1, mostly. Then split between League 2 and lower.

You may have a couple "Championship quality" teams, but they would not survive an actual competitive system.

AN ACTUAL COMPETITION

What do I mean by that? Well, league competition in England at the pro level is a meat grinder. Teams play over 10 more matches than MLS a year in their league alone. Add in cup matches and you quickly find out that MLS teams would just fall apart. They are not built for that. If they would have a star DP miss a few weeks or longer, or have a nasty contract dispute, the team would fall to the bottom half of the table alone.

Regardless, I do believe there are a couple of things at play when this conversation comes up. 

First is the "super bowl" effect. What that means is that MLS fans look at it as a one-game type thing. Like, LAFC could hold her own in a single game against Stoke, per say. And that's kinda true. But that's not what a league competition is. Hell, that's not what THE SPORT OF SOCCER IS. It's about who navigates a 40+ game season the best.

Second (and settle in here, I have a lot to say): Video games. 

SOCCER VIDEO GAMES

Load up the latest EA Sports FIFA and take your favorite MLS team online and you'll see that you can beat someone playing with the best in the world. I've been here. I remember my best online seasons were controlling 2010 Columbus Crew teams for hours on end. It gets you thinking "Hey, I'm winning! MLS teams are great!"

There's more to the video game impact. Compare and contrast player ratings and you'll see that the folks in Vancouver who decide such things have a player like Justin Meram or Patrick Mullins rated just the same as some Premier league players. Reason would have you thinking; well, MLS is just as good. Again, this just isn't the case. Setting the inflated rating argument aside for a moment, MLS teams only have a couple players per team like that, whereas teams like Everton have 20+. It's a wall have talented players, not just a few.

Another impact games have is when you play the game on a difficulty level that does not challenge you as a player. You see it all the time on Twitter, hell, I've done it. "So-and-so MLS player had six goals vs Real Madrid last night!" MLS is great!

VIDEO GAMES AND USSF REFORM

As a long time soccer gamer with a collection of games dating back to the Atari 2600 in my possession, I can safely tell you that I am confident in my video game understanding and analysis. I can also tell you that it was a video game that, in part, drove me to become a proponent for reform within the USSF.

It's something I've thought about often over the years. How on earth did it happen?

Somewhere a decade ago, around the same time I was rediscovering MLS, I discovered how fun it was to create your own tournament within EA games. What I would do is swap out all the MLS teams for English League 2 teams, pick the Crew and climb the ladder. It was incredibly fun to see how far MLS teams would go along with my own journey. 

By the year 2024 (or whatever) FIFA had MLS teams rising to the Championship along with me and eventually to the Prem. That said, the unintended nightmare side effect of this was when I would check to see how things were in the ol' MLS - and see how the swapped out League 2 teams were doing...

This is where things changed. 

There they were, fake-EA years advanced where I, myself and the Columbus Crew, had climbed to the highest levels of European football - Northampton Town, Bury, Chesterfield, Shrewsbury Town and on - just sitting there. Stuck in a virtual MLS prison. Playing each other for eternity over and over. Nothing to climb, nothing to fall too. Just... there.

Not long after I experienced a similar emotional event playing Sega's Football Manager.

With this game, I found myself officially reviewing it for a site for another MLS outlet. Of course, I had to play as an MLS team, in MLS. It was a straight-laced, out of the box, play. Which was fine.

At the start, I had no problems. In fact, the experience helped in my understanding of the quirky league rules (salary caps, DPs, international slots, etc) and improved my writing. 

It was fun, that first season or two. However, a few virtual seasons on is where I ran into problems. Not with the game, mind you. It was MLS. 100% MLS. It became groundhog day. Same teams, battling it out, season after season. No real reward. No real failure. Things just clicked along. 

A familiar nightmare type feeling came over me. Just like when I sent history soaked League 2 sides to MLS with EA, I now felt like I was in an MLS prison. To put it another way, I felt like I was riding a never-ending merry-go-round when all the other kids were riding every other roller coaster in the amusement park.

After I finished the review of the game I decided to look for another job in the virtual world of Football Manager. Which I found. In the Vanarama Conference North.

I've never looked back.