Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Iron Front Symbol has Consumed MLS

MLS is currently entangled in a "left vs. right" power struggle that might be best described as a "B movie" version of what the NFL went through last year with Colin Kaepernick.

It's not so much about what the issues are, it's about who supports them and who doesn't.

What's the controversy? Here's the one-sentence summary: Supporters are being banned for bringing "iron front" symbols to games. I'm sure you can look up the symbol and meaning faster than I can describe it here, so do that and form your own opinion of it, if you haven't done so already.

People seem to be befuddled at why MLS is taking a stand against the symbol are being either naive or disingenuous. The reason it is banned is simple.

It is a symbol closely associated with the politically leaning "left" and MLS does not want their league to drift too far any which way. THAT'S IT. It has nothing to do with Don Garber or any other investor being an actual fascist.

MLS has made it abundantly clear - it does not want to be what it has quickly become - a "politically progressive" gathering place in the way NASCAR is a politically opposite of that.


My wife (Autumn) and I recently took our 3-year-old to a Columbus Crew game a few weeks ago. It was the first time I had been to a game in some time and for Autumn even longer. For those that haven't been, Crew Stadium is a great place to go on late summer nights. The air is cool, the midwestern sunset is fantastic, and the people are friendly.

Orlando City Fans
Autumn did notice something a little different, however. The supporters' section seemed to be more about other things than the Crew. Various pride flags and other non-team imagery were in ample supply. Also, the way fans were dressed. All of it is something familiar to me and my regular watching of MLS, but to my wife, it was a little jolting how much it had changed in just a short period of time. I commented, somewhat old-man dismissively, that it looked like a bunch of freshman art students took over the Nordecke (before you get all judge-y, I have a BA in Graphic Design with a minor in Fine Art which makes me an expert on bad art, particularly of my own making:).

Between the two of us, the conclusion was that it looked like some sort of cosplay/left-leaning political rally on the city hall steps at the end of a parade and not so much a group of taem supporters. I know that kind of brings a giant "meh, who cares they can do what they want" to your mind, but we aren't on the hook for league cash flow. My wife and I are not the types that get particularly offended by these things in the soccer world (it happens all over), but if we are noticing a big shift in Columbus - everyone involved in the league does too.

That doesn't just mean fans, pundits, and hopeless bloggers - that means business executives, ESPN, sponsors, employees, FOX, general sportsperson in the USA and (importantly) abroad, etc etc. The political climate of MLS has drifted as far left as, say, NASCAR is far "right."

So, the question becomes whether or not being a "left" league is lucrative. Will more fans go? Will more sponsors come? Will ESPN, Fox, and Univision pay more for the next TV deal? How about business overseas?

These are the questions Don Garber and the rest of the investors in the league are asking - the same that the NFL, Garber's career birthplace, asked during the issues with kneeling. It's not the specific reasons. It's about left and right and the drift too far one way.


Minnesota United Supporters
MLS is generally bad in the way it treats fans and players, so it isn't surprising that they are doing what they are doing now. You can see my main criticism of MLS clearly at work here in that it is a centrally controlled league that you have to pay to enter. Since this is the case, there is only room for one voice - the league.

If Seattle, Portland, Minnesota, and Atlanta (the places where this issue is HOT) were independent, perhaps even fan-owned, they could make their own call on these things. As it stands, you are all owned by a single group and must comply with them.

I have a decade of writing (and podcasting) about MLS under my belt at this site. There was a time around 2012-2013 where I felt too much of my identity was falling under a stupid league so I made the decision to not let it become part of me and just a thing I enjoyed keeping up with. It's been easier since then.

My recommendation is to not let MLS (or any other sports league/team) become part of your self-identity. If you do let that happen,  like many out there on social media, you will find that things like this recent controversy impact you personally, when it really shouldn't.

It's a business, they want your money. If you are part of a demo that has a lot of money (particularly the demo that buys teams, ie. conservative folks), they will cater to you. That's all.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

It's Gregg Berhalter's Narrative

“I see where the narrative is going now, it’s ‘Why are we playing the way we’re playing?’” Berhalter said. “The second is, ‘We don’t have the players to do it.’ That’s what all of you guys are thinking. And to me, it’s about developing players. We’re making progress. That’s not going to be your narrative right now, and I understand that. But internally, we believe we’re making progress.”

I'm taking a look at Gregg Berhalter's postgame comments after last Friday's 0-3 lost to Mexico. Just purely looking at the comments, and not looking at his demeanor from the videos or anything like that - he appears frustrated. It's clear he tried to head off criticism by putting forward what he thought the press would say after the loss, which, for me is a bit narcissistic. Deflecting criticism before it even got to him is "smartest guy in the room" stuff, not a great look.

Several media outlets, including heavy hitters (relatively in the soccer universe) like Yahoo Sports and The Athletic, have done exactly what Berhalter thought they would do in regards to the narrative after the game. Berhalter also claimed that he believed internally they were making progress and without a doubt, I do believe after following him here in Columbus for a number of years that he believes that. He did that exact same thing with the Crew when he stuck with it through losses and really poor results one of them led to the second-worst season in crew history back in 2016.

But my criticism of the way Berhalter is approaching this is simple and stems from the fact that he believes that he is developing these players. Whether that means he's developing them as overall players or developing them to fit into his specific system. I don't believe that you can run much of a rigid system at the National Team level because it is a revolving door of guys that are being called in and time with them is limited - it's just not possible.

Another thing to look at is trying to have players learn system like he's coaching some sort of Club is that players don't have the time to learn it. Both Sebastian Lletget and Christian Pulisic made mention of this after the game.

National team players, when they're called up, are usually on break or it's during the summer or something similar. They are mixing in vacations, recovery, or time off. I don't think a lot of the players are all that interested in really going out there and learning an entirely new system outside of what they're doing with their club - which is usually pretty intensive because these are good players.

No doubt Gregg Berhalter has a little bit of a mess on his hands. I don't think he really has a plan B outside of players just buckling down and learning what he has planned out.

“It’s the hardest thing in the world,” Pulisic said after Friday’s defeat. “You have short periods to train, and it’s hard to teach a real system and be very specific with it.”

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Updated Crew NPS

Here is an update to my ongoing Net Promoter Scores (NPS) for Crew players. You can see previous entries HERE and HERE.


Good performances can be a little random and a little lucky so one thing I like to look at, particularly in MLS, is which players are having either really good outings or really bad ones while discounting the middle/average results. This is similar to the way a lot of survey companies look at data. It's also how some companies calculate customer satisfaction scores (or Net Promoter Scores).

The Net Promoter Score is calculated by subtracting the percentage of customers who are Detractors (or bad performances) from the percentage of customers who are Promoters (outstanding performances). For purposes of calculating a Net Promoter Score, Passives (average performances) count toward the total number of respondents, thus decreasing the percentage of detractors and promoters and pushing the net score toward 0.

What this math results in is a range from +100 to -100. Anything over +50 is great (+70 is outstanding, but no Crew players there). 0 to +50 is fine. Anything in the negative is bad.

Outstanding performances = 7.00 and up. Bad Performance is 6.00 and below.

NPS : Name : Games

50% : Pedro Santos : 26

32% : Gyasi Zardes : 22
29% : Federico Hi : 14
24% : Waylon Fran : 17
21% : Robinho : 19
20% : Romario Wil : 5
17% : Aboubacar K : 6
15% : Josh Willia : 13
14% : Ricardo Cla : 7
14% : Wil Trapp : 22

9% : Artur : 23
8% : David Accam : 12
7% : Gastón Saur : 15
7% : Harrison Af : 15
6% : Luis Argudo : 16
4% : Héctor Jimé : 23

0% : Zack Steffe : 13
0% : Luis Díaz : 6
0% : Connor Malo : 3
0% : Youness Mok : 2
0% : Lalas Abuba : 1

-6% : Jonathan Me : 18

-11% : Alex Crogna : 9
-11% : Justin Mera : 9
-27% : David Guzmá : 11
-29% : Eduardo Sos : 7
-29% : J.J. Willia : 7
-33% : Patrick Mul : 9
-40% : Eloy Room : 5
-44% : Niko Hansen : 9
-50% : Joe Bendik : 6
-67% : Jon Kempin : 3

It's an overall improvement from the last time I took a look at things as most of the regular starters are finally on the plus side of things.

Mensah continues to hang around in the negative, but when you pull out the last six games it looks better (Crew unbeaten run). A great callout here is Luis Argudo. He's been a major contributor to this latest run of mostly positive results.

100% : Ricardo Clark (1 app)
100% : Waylon Franis (1 app)

83% : Pedro Santos

50% : Josh Willia
50% : Luis Argudo
50% : Gyasi Zarde
33% : Jonathan Me
25% : Aboubacar K
20% : Romario Wil
17% : David Accam
17% : Harrison Af
17% : Wil Trapp

0% : Alex Crogna
0% : Artur
0% : Connor Malo
0% : David Guzmá
0% : Eduardo Sos
0% : Héctor Jimé
0% : Joe Bendik
0% : Youness Mok
0% : Luis Díaz

-40% : Eloy Room 3

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Crew Lows, Recovery Coming

While a recent unbeaten run has pulled the 2019 Crew off the mat to an average of one point per game, it came too late to hold off a record low for any 10 game run I have on record (going back to the 2009 season) of 0.20 points per game (PPG).

The rolling 20 game run is currently at an all-time low of 0.65 PPG, dropping below the previous low in 2016 of 0.85 PPG under Gregg Berhalter for the 3rd consecutive week.

What this means is that recovery is likely coming, based on what I've observed before. No team in MLS stays horrible for terribly long as the league is designed to prevent it. That appears to be so here in Columbus.

I don't think the manager on the sideline has a heck of a lot to do with that recovery, however! I do believe that if Caleb Porter can't get something going early next season, he will be replaced. I image the team really wants positive momentum going into the new stadium in 2021.

The chart below shows rolling results going back to 2009. On the vertical axis is PPG, horizontal is year.

You can see the clear up and down nature of results. It happens across the league. With more teams, we may see recoveries and falls happen a bit slower, but they will happen.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Trapp, Williams to Crew Fans: Cool It

"So apparently Wil Trapp and Josh Williams came over to the Nordecke to tell #Crew96 fans to stop yelling obscenities at Michael Bradley after the game tonight?" - Patrick Murphy

It takes a lot for players to go off-script. Pre and post-game interviews are inevitably canned comments that we've all heard a thousand times. Even when they are playing in a game they are following orders from one coach or another. Along with that, think about other times in their life where they have to hold their tongue, especially in the social media world.

So when Wil Trapp and Josh Williams - a combined 329 games over 15 years with Columbus as well as sticking with and by the team through the potential move - come over to tell a certain section of the fans to effectively "cool it," you should listen.


My criticisms of Bradley go back almost as long as this site. His play, which can drift from good game to he's not trying today, has brought up my blood pressure many times over the years. It also pokes at my soul that he has more opportunity and safety net because of who his father is. Have you ever thought about how many players in his position have been left off rosters because he is always there regardless of form or overall ability? It bugs me to no end.

Columbus Crew fans dislike of Bradley goes back to when he started with Toronto. Sometime during that season, he made a few passing comments about Columbus that weren't flattering. Last year, as you can see in the video embedded (that, notably, hasn't reached 2k viewers), he took those feelings even further.

Bradley likes to hit a nerve with Crew fans and the fans respond, to a sadly predictable fault.


This dark feud with Bradley is just one thing you can add to the bizarre list of Crew fan touchstones in recent years that miss the mark entirely and manifested itself in that oddly negative Pulisic USMNT tifo a few years ago (which isn't a comment on the artwork or effort, just the theme) that was in such stark contrast to the much more representative "home" that came before.

All the way from when West Ham visited to McBride going to Chicago to Mendoza to Pedro Santos and everything in between. It's not fun, nor memorable for the right reasons, and often it makes zero sense.

I am a harsh critic of MLS, so it's easy to take this as just another reason to bang on the league - but I do see things creatively going on in place like Portland, Seattle, sometimes KC and even down in Atlanta that hit the mark.

There is an awesome group of fans that regularly attend games and enjoy them. At one point, in the not so distant past, they shared a strong relationship to the Nordecke. As a matter of fact, the early connected earthy feel of the supporters' section was born from the long-time families and friends that attended games around 2008.

The long-time families and friends are still going to games and having a great time. What's changed is the northeast corner. It didn't happen all the sudden, or quickly, but here we are.

When I was a kid there was a mean-spirited saying that went; "You want to be in Ohio when the world ends because it'll take 10 years to get there," which, at the time, referred to trends. Now that I'm living here (and older), I don't hear it. Which is good, because it isn't true for a lot of the state. But I do think about it every once in a while when things like this arise, but I know it's just a handful of voices ruining it for many others.

In a couple years, the new stadium will be built and the nordecke-type experience will be a selling point, but that's about it. The move takes the stadium away from a few areas that fuel that corner of the stadium. It will be more controlled, more corporate, more expensive, more blah - but if it rids the general dark viciousness of a few fans?

Well, I'm sure that more than a few will be okay with that.

Monday, August 12, 2019

MLS Table, Crew

Columbus is on their best run since the first few weeks of the season after a draw with Cincinnati last weekend. In their last six games, they have managed 9 points. 11 other teams are on a better run. While that still isn't great, it does put them back in "hey we are average" range, verses "we are hot garbage."

2.29Los Angeles FC24174365254055
1.73Philadelphia Union26136748381045
1.68Atlanta United25133943301342
1.65New York City FC23108541311038
1.63Seattle Sounders FC2411673834439
1.58Minnesota United2411584235738
1.58San Jose Earthquakes2411584136538
1.54LA Galaxy24121113136-537
1.54Real Salt Lake2411493532337
1.50DC United2610973432239
1.48New York Red Bulls25114104338537
1.48Portland Timbers2310493834434
1.44FC Dallas2510693631536
1.36New England Revolution259793744-734
1.32Toronto FC2596103941-233
1.27Montreal Impact26103133647-1133
1.20Orlando City2586113334-130
1.20Houston Dynamo2593133541-630
1.17Sporting Kansas City2477103743-628
1.15Chicago Fire2679103837130
1.08Colorado Rapids2475124149-826
1.00Columbus Crew2675142739-1226
0.92Vancouver Whitecaps2659122645-1924
0.72FC Cincinnati2553172557-3218

Obviously, with just 8 games remaining, the playoffs are out of reach. I expect the rest of the season will be pushing for a positive "the team is improving" narrative that helps grease the rails for season tickets next year.

It's going to be a hard sell, in my opinion. Wherever I work, I tend to be the "soccer guy." My latest job (well, most of my jobs) has me working with a very large group (think 100s). There are casual sports fans that might go to a game or two as well as "Ohio sports guy" that is curious.

They are not enthusiastic about buying a ticket.

Something that popped up in a conversation recently that happens quite a bit is the "quality" aspect of the game. Anyone that has a passing interest in the sport mentions how it looks like high school (or rec league).

Last weekend's game was a terrible advertisement for MLS/Columbus Crew. The game was not good! It's funny and perhaps ironic that the biggest criticism I hear about going to Crew games is the level of play and not the stadium experience. In my decade of writing about this team and being the token "soccer guy" at work, nobody with passing interest in the Crew has ever been critical of the stadium or experience.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Top Left Mids in MLS

[Season start - July 26, 2019 - I round ages]

Somewhat bizarrely, Left mids in MLS are a hot commodity. Their average salary is second only to Forwards and tops even those of top cental mids. The reason is likely simple. Left footed mids can whip the ball into right foot dominate forwards. I wish there were more to it than that, but there likely isn't. Anyhow:

29: Median Age of top LM's in MLS
$1.2m: Median salary

1Maximiliano MoralezGranadero Baigorria, ArgentinaNYC32$2,000,000
2Sebastián BlancoBuenos Aires, ArgentinaPDX31$1,375,008
3Lucas RodríguezBuenos Aires, ArgentinaDC22$298,550
4NaniPraia, Cape VerdeORL33$2,486,250
5Aleksandar KataiSrbobran, YugoslaviaCHI29$1,380,333
6VakoOzurgeti, GeorgiaSJE27$1,604,042
7Daniel RoyerSchladming, AustriaNYR29$768,750
8Memo RodriguezWharton, TexasHOU24$82,750
9Uriel AntunaGomez Palacio, MexicoLAG22$420,000
10Víctor RodríguezBarcelona, SpainSEA30$1,087,500

There seems to be a wide range of ages and nationalities and wages on this list (outside of Argentina's top 3), which kinda confirms the ends that teams go to find a good crosser of the ball.

The disparity in salary tells us that this position needs a lot of work in MLS. In this top 10 you can go from a player making $83k to over $2 million.

Here's how WhoScored has the ratings:

7.38Maximiliano MoralezNYC
7.23Sebastián BlancoPDX
7.21Aleksandar KataiCHI
7.15Memo RodriguezHOU
7.11Ignacio PiattiMTL
7.10Lucas RodríguezDC
7.00Kevin MolinoMIN
6.95Daniel RoyerNYR
6.93Víctor RodríguezSEA
6.91David AccamCLB
6.87Justin MeramATL

Not that both Accam and Meram make an appearance on this list. Columbus had both at one point, but somehow saw that as a position that needed an upgrade. In fact, they still do because they are shipping Accam away after the season.

Here are my other TOP IN MLS lists, so far: