Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Case for Gregg Berhalter

By: Vidda Grubin












Gregg Berhalter is the right person for the job of United States Senior Men's Soccer Team Head Coach.

Berhalter has the proven ability to take average players and get them to play a style of soccer, possession oriented, which translates over time to consistent positive results. Point all you want to the lack of trophies as Columbus Crew coach; but remember, the Columbus Crew, with average to below average payroll, produced some of the most entertaining soccer in MLS over the last five years. They routinely punched above their perceived level. New strikers every year or two, revolving central defender pairings and a hot and cold midfield was turned into a team which, at times, could step onto the field of play and not only outplay teams with significantly better rosters top to bottom, but look classy and comfortable in the process.

Gregg Berhalter, I trust, has worked out a deal where he must have some control of youth team player choices and development strategy. Two years from now, there will be no average players on the National Team. He will find, with the help of coaches like Tab Ramos and others, the most technically gifted and tactically intelligent players residing in the United States, regardless of league affiliation, family heritage or color of skin. And, Gregg Berhalter will not abandon the long term expected value of requiring his players to embrace and become deadly efficient within his chosen style of play.

All that said, the US Men's National Team may not qualify for the 2022 World Cup. I will shed no tears if that happens. Qatar is an abomination. 2026 is certainly the target. Victory is assuredly the goal.

The pool of players between the ages of 12 and 22 in the states is talented, driven, deep and wide. Given enough control, time and the right support, Gregg Berhalter will put the US Men's National Team in position to win the 2026 World Cup.

Stick to your guns, Mr. Berhalter. Demand that your players and teams seek to dominate every technical, tactical and creative aspect of every training session and every game in which they participate. You have never relented to a player's immaturity, selfishness or fundamental weakness, don't start now. I have watched you, your players and teams, each and every one has bought-in and appreciated the fact that you expect nothing but the best from them. Never stop and best of luck.

PS--I hope Josh Wolff's car was in the spot I said it was at the restaurant on Main Street.  ; ) Valet is on me if you come back.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Crew Season Ends

After a couple hard-fought games, The Columbus Crew were knocked out of the MLS Cup competition last night by Supporters' Shield winners NY Red Bulls.

Columbus was about as Columbus could be this year as they floated around a zero goal difference and went on long stretches of bad play. In the end, finishing 10th on the overall table. There's a little more to it, obviously, so let's take a closer look.

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All the hallmarks of a Gregg Berhalter lead team were here this season. The team held possession in most games, led MLS in crosses and were 3rd in short passing per game. This formula has worked, for the most part, for the Crew since Berhalter took over, albeit a little watered down this year.

The top issue for the Crew this year was always going to be scoring. Before the season started it was obvious what the outlook was for the team. I don't write about the team much anymore but I did manage a few words back in February:

"So much depends on Gyasi Zardes goals and how invested Higuain is. This season will be long and meandering with the World Cup, this team will be looking for a breakout performer."

That's pretty much how it worked out. Zardes. After Kei and Ola Kamara, he was ver 3.0 of a Berhalter number nine. In the goals department, he delivered. But that was about all he has in common with ver 1 and 2. He didn't hold up or work it back out wide when there wasn't anything for him and was ineffective in helping anyone else in the attack.

With zero assists on the season, we can point to him for the decreased production from the wings like Pedro Santos and the return of Justin Meram.

QUICK COMPARE OF BERHALTER'S NINES

- In 2015, Kei Kamara added 6 assists to his 26 goals, + a key pass per game to go along with 64% passing on 748 passes.

- In 2017, Ola Kamara had 19 goals, 4 assists, 74% passing (624 total passes) + 0.8 key passes per game.

- In 2018, Zardes had no assists, 20 goals, 0.9 key passes per game and 72% passing an 474 passes (25, 40% less than the Kamara's, respectively).

Outside of that, Zardes' goal tally on the road was unacceptable. Just 2 of his 20 coming away from Columbus. This lead to an anemic attack. 43 overall goals for the team this year was tied for 2nd worst in MLS. The team's 11 goals from 17 away from home was dead last, only Colorado with 12 comes close. The next nearest team was four goals up the ladder.

The goal here is certainly not to pick on Zardes and his season. Pedro Santos, despite being one of the better players with the ball in the middle third of the pitch, was ineffective in attack and Mike Grella was injured / out of the lineup to make up for the loss of Justin Meram and the speed of Ethan Finlay (going back a bit).

Santos, Grella, Niko Hansen, Meram and... I think that's it on the wings, just couldn't get anything going with Zardes up top to make this team anything better than mid-table.

Anyhow, outside of a stout defense that included Mensah, Williams, and Gaston Sauro - this is about the season for the Crew - Home effort kept the team in the mix and Away games ultimately killed it.

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.