Sunday, March 3, 2019

2019 Crew Season Opens, Concerns

The 2019 MLS season got underway yesterday. As with most years, it was a bit sloppy and incomplete. It is difficult to draw any conclusions until somewhere between week 5 and 10. However! This being my 10th season covering the Crew closely, I feel comfortable in drawing a few thoughts out of the mist and listing them out.

1. Porter's team plays more like a Robert Warzycha team: Or perhaps, because this was more of a NYRB II team practically playing a low block, they made Caleb Porter look more like Crew circa 2012. Sloppy play and very little composed possession in the opponents half.

2. Opportunity lost: Because MLS balances the rosters (best they can) teams with a decided advantage have to get 3 points out of games like this one. Crew playing at home, 1st of the year, against a B lineup... has to turn into 3 points. Even if it's a sloppy win.

3. Crew weaknesses, all over: To the right and left of Federico Higuain are weak spots for Columbus right now. I put some of that on Porter for wanting to bypass the midfield and go somewhat direct, but also because father time is catching up to Justin Meram (who was ineffective yesterday) and Pedro Santos (only 22 passes, 60% completion) has some sort of mental issue when he gets close to goal. There was even a moment late on where he scuffed a shot, went down in a heap and Higuain trotted over as if to say "come on man, let's go, get up." Artur also had a bit of a sloppy game and wasn't able to get into any sort of attacking position, which makes his role somewhat redundant with Trapp in there.

4. Porter overthinking it: With just about the entire team returning, you should have just rolled a solid XI out there from last year and won this game. But he is tinkering with how they play, which is absolutely his right. It's a concern, however, that the team looked a bit lost. Credit goes to NY a little, but that was not exactly a Supporters' Shield-winning lineup out there.

5. Fox Sports Broadcast: Looked like Fox. Production is much improved over Spectrum Sports. I wish the video quality were better, but it is what it is. Neil Sika and Dwight Burgess are back doing what they do giving us long-winded backgrounds on players that nobody asks for instead of calling the game. The GREAT GREAT news is that Chris Doran is on the 97.1 FM radio call. I caught some of it. He is excellent.

6. 17k Showed Up: Nice turnout for a cold home opener for Columbus. If the team hadn't gone through what it went through last year I would say it was a good turnout, but as circumstances are what they are - It was somewhat disappointing. It was a busy sports day in town. The Columbus Blue Jackets had a game earlier and the Buckeye basketball team played at Purdue, but that's always the excuse in town. I'm not sure I expected a sellout, but I'm sure many did.

What's funny about these broad points is that fans of the team will be discussing each of them for the rest of the season.

Most have Columbus finishing middle of the pack this year. I'm not sure anything happened last night to change that prediction up or down, but it did make me feel more confident that this team will end up fighting to make the playoffs after the summer transfer window.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Unicorn Found! MLS Prediction

Season point predictions are just about as rare as finding a Unicorn frolicking in the wild, but here is one from Harrison Crow (Analysis Evolved contributor).



Let's focus on the East because that's where I've gone deep this particular preseason.

1. ATL : 65
2. NYR : 60
3. PHI : 50
4. DCU : 50
5. NYC : 50
6. MTL : 45
7. CLB : 40
8. ORL : 40
9. FCC : 35
10. TFC : 35
11. NER : 30
12. CHI : 30

I'm not yet ready to put points to paper, but let us look at where I agree.

I AGREE

PLAYOFFS: ATL - Yeah
PLAYOFFS: NYR - Ok, I see them 4th
PLAYOFFS: DCU - 3rd is about right
PLAYOFFS: NYC - I've got them up top

CRAPPY: CHI - Horrible org, coach
CRAPPY: NER - A wasteland
CRAPPY: FCC - Just trying to get off the ground

I DISAGREE

PHI: I don't see it, like the creativeness though
TFC: They will be better than 10th
ORL: I have them last

THE REST OF AVERAGE

MTL: Average
CLB: Average!

I think Philly is the one I figure gets nowhere close to 50 pts. Maybe swap them and Columbus. Orlando is still absolute garbage, so maybe switch them with New England.

Here's mine, without the points:

1. NYC
2. ATL
3. DCU
4. NYR
5. TFC
6. MTL
7. CLB
8. NER
9. FCC
10. PHI
11. CHI
12. ORL

For the handful of Crew fans out there that still read this blog... I love that they are bringing back 90+% of minutes from last season. Some of that, I'm sure, is situational. Carryover minutes, however. One of the best predictors of success in MLS. I can see that carrying them up a couple spots if Caleb Porter can get it right.

Toronto Stomped in '19 CCL Opener

Toronto FC's competitive season started last night with a trip down to Panama that saw them get played off the pitch 4:0 to Independiente in CONCACAF Champions League play. This comes just a few weeks after Eric Wynalda's Las Vegas Lights beat them down 5-1 in preseason play.

After a miserable 2018 MLS season, there is no question as to the trouble that TFC now finds themselves in.

Questions should be asked about the motivation of key players like team captain Michael Bradley, Belgian international Laurent Ciman and head coach Greg Vanney. A sinkhole has opened up beneath the team. There is simply no excuse for last season and the start to this season.

Toronto's payroll likely eclipses the entire Panamanian league. Hell, Bradley and Altidore's yearly wages are likely more. Excuses come fast and plentiful during the CCL competition each year. "MLS is still in preseason," and "Concacaf refs and away surfaces" top the list of most common. But the true reasons for Toronto, and MLS, struggling in this league comes down to the effort and the moss that grows on players from the low wattage MLS competition. They are simply not sharp enough or motivated enough to compete at in a high-intensity environment.

Despite having the highest paid player in the hemisphere, MLS has never had a team win the current iteration of the CCL.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

'19 Carolina Cup Grades, Rd 1

Long live the Carolina Challenge Cup. Believe it or not, this year marks the 15th consecutive year for this little four-team tournament that always manages to get a strong effort from players and coaches. This year sees hosts Charleston Battery (15th appearance) face up against the Columbus Crew (6th app), Chicago Fire (4th app) and FC Cincinnati (1st time).

Last night the 1st games of this mini round robin kicked off. Columbus took on Chicago and Charleston took on FC Cincy.

As far as season projections: I've got Columbus finishing near the top of the East, with Chicago and Cincinnati finishing near the bottom.

Results aside here's team grades based on performance vs what I expected:

B : COLUMBUS CREW
A sloppy tackle by Wil Trapp saw him get sent off, but it sent this game into an interesting direction. With most of the team returning, I was looking to see if Crew players were engaged. Playing with 10 men for 60 minutes was a great way to measure that. They were. I was also interested in seeing new ideas from Caleb Porter, but we'll get an incomplete on that via red card.

C : CHICAGO FIRE, CHARLESTON BATTERY
Chicago looked like they have for the past few years. A handful of talented players mixed in with a bunch of guys that have no business being out there. They played hard and desperately wanted another goal to put away Columbus. Perhaps if they were facing any other MLS team they would have gotten it but the Crew pretty much brought everyone from last year back. It was pretty much like facing a season ready team.

Another thing from Chicago I was looking for was a plan. They didn't seem to have one. Their coach seems like a nice guy, but that's about it. "Get forward, play tough defense, look for the break" is not coaching.

Charleston gets a C grade for playing up to their competition, which they usually do in this tournament. FC Cincy was looking to come out of the gates firing here but the Battery soaked it up and played competitively.

D : FC CINCY
In a few ways, they are being built like the Chicago Fire. Half the starting XI is good, the other half bad. I wasn't looking for much last night. The effort was great, but there was no clear plan. Facing an inferior team of players should afford you some latitude in trying out stuff. Even if it doesn't work, it's a great opportunity to work on it. Cincy just went out and played general soccer (if that makes any sense). I don't care if they made mistakes, just wanted to see some structure in what they were doing. There wasn't much. About what I expected, I guess.

The season starts in a couple weeks. Major takeaways from last night for each team:

1. Columbus: Are ready to go
2. Chicago: Good effort, bad coach, sloppy roster build
3. Cincy: Sloopy roster, no plan

Next round of games are on Wednesday.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Mennah to FC Cincy

Kekuta Manneh will be joining FC Cincinnati for the 2019 season. He will be a key piece that fills one of the holes for an expansion side trying desperately to find its footing.

After the recent injury to Jimmy McLaughlin, FCC was certainly looking for a midfielder. Menneh fits that bill. There are questions around him, however. After jumping on the scene with Vancouver as a teen (6 goals and 4 assists in just 767 minutes), he drifted a little bit into the land of anonymous MLS land. Not because he isn't talented, but more because he was playing for a team that gets zero recognition.

Vancouver plays out west, on turf, and hasn't been able to find its place in MLS. I tend to think their strong connection to their NASL past makes MLS a little hesitant to feature them in anything. Combine that with the fact that they are a Canadian team and you get a team where good players might go unnoticed (save for Alphonso Davies going to Bayern, come to think of it, Manneh's talent in his early days might have put Vancouver on the radar and brought Bayern out to look at Davies).

Mennah, at one point in 2013, was seen as the next big thing in MLS. 2014 and 2015 gave him more minutes to work with but the team sucked and his production dropped to somewhere around "good MLS starter range."

Year: Mins (G+A p90)
2013: 764 (0.94)
2014: 1198 (0.45)
2015: 2424 (0.48)
2016: 1139 (0.55)

With his production consistent, it is easy to see why Gregg Berhalter and the Columbus Crew picked him up in 2017. He went on to put away 4 goals and assist on another three in just 838 minutes (0.75 G+A p90).

I think Manneh wanted to dip his toes into international waters for a while and Berhalter made that happen. He ended up down with CF Pachuca in Mexico, but he didn't break into the 18. From there he went to FC St. Gallen 1879 of the Swiss 1st Division, where he played as a sub.

The lesson we have learned here is that LigaMX and the Swiss Super League are competitive levels that are slightly ahead of MLS. Manneh was not able to do much in his time there. However! Back in MLS, he should be able to knock back a handful of goals and assists for FC Cincy.

As of this moment, we are not sure how much Columbus got from FCC for owning his "rights," but I imagine it wasn't a whole lot.

Ultimately, Manneh brings experience and an attacking presence to FC Cincy, but it doesn't get them anywhere close to playoff level.

Here's an updated look at the teams I've evaluated:


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Player Ratings (avg)TransferMarkt Value (000)
TeamStartersBenchStartersBench
1NYC70.564.6$ 16,303$ 4,470
2ATL70.466.7$ 49,014$ 14,484
3DCU69.756.6$ 21,934$ 2,990
4NYR69.764.9$ 20,192$ 3,745
5TFC69.765.4$ 18,061$ 3,502
6MIN69.657.1$ 13,800$ 4,470
7MTL69.665.2$ 13,410$ 4,876
9CLB69.366.2$ 24,671$ 4,180
9NER69.165.6$ 13,955$ 5,811
10FCC68.764.3$ 12,326$ 4,790
11PHI68.256.5$ 9,933$ 5,529
12CHI67.863.7$ 17,022$ 3,955
13ORL67.262.2$ 10,365$ 3,309 

-->

Dilly Duka, Survivor


Playing around with tools today. Since he recently moved abroad to KF Partizani Tirana in Albania, above is Dilly Duka's career timeline. Duka's career is unique in that he has had two separate layoffs between MLS teams. It's something I don't see often, if at all. I love to see players fighting for their career. If I was starting a team, I'd want a few players like Duka on it.

The timeline is interactive, should be able to click around, get info.

Brek Shea, All Around the World



Brek Shea is on the move again, this time to Atlanta to play for last year's MLS Cup winning side. I think people forget just how much of an impact Shea made during his 2010 and 2011 seasons for FC Dallas as a 20-year-old. More than his goal + assist rate was just how much of a force of nature he was on the pitch. He played like a feral animal. Some of his runs were end to end, bouncing off opposing players and the ground alike. He is a type of a player that I hadn't seen following MLS up to that point and still haven't seen since.

Shea has an artist's soul and a Texan mentality wrapped in an athletic build. It's an odd combination that I think has led to his somewhat bizarre career. I think the openness of MLS played to his ability, but once he graduated to England he, and we, found that you can't just be a blunt solo instrument and be able to get playing time.

There was an air of "I've made it" once he got there. I remember he was injured when he came in, gained weight and never really got back into shape. Even after loans to Barnsley and Birmingham City. He didn't seem to care to learn the trade, either. He just wanted to play his way.

He was seen as somewhat of damaged goods when he was brought back to MLS via Orlando City. I think he spent the first couple seasons there just trying to get back into it, physically and mentally. Working against him at the time (besides the dysfunction of Orlando City) was his size. In MLS 6'3" shouts HE CAN PLAY ANYWHERE, so he was moved all over the pitch. Last year alone he managed to start in seven(!) different positions.

It sounds like Atlanta is planning on deploying him at Left Back, which is unfortunate. But again, his size means that many only look at that. I don't think he is a particularly good defender, but set piece defending I guess?

Going back to when he was running wild in Dallas would be how I deployed him. If that means coming off the bench as a sub when you need a goal or two, or dropping him in there against bad defensive teams and just telling him to make shit happen. At his peak in 2011, you felt like every time he got the ball he was going to create a chance.

Brek turns 29 at the end of the month. His career is more interesting than most and I still think he has a little to offer.

Just not from the back.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Revs Sign an Impressive Player

Today, the New England Revolution signed Spanish player Carles Gil from Spanish side Deportivo La Coruna. Frank Dell’Apa of the Boston Globe is reporting that the Revs paid $2 million for the player and will pay him another $2 million this year to play for the long-trying-to-keep-up side.

Gil is a good player who has had significant time with Aston Villa and Valencia, so the only hanging questions might be; how will he like playing in Foxboro? How will he like the surface? What about travel?

The Revs don't have another player of his pedigree on the squad. Nor do they have any other Spanish speaking European player. These are things to look at, it's important in a player finding their footing. It is possible that Gil is laser-focused on making a name for himself, but will he stick it out after a few bad losses and a late night game to Vancouver? We'll see.

What isn't in question is that he is a quality player and not one you see often in New England.

Technical Director Michael Burns says "he's a No. 10, an attacking playmaker." This means that Diego Fagundez is out of a job. At least in that role. I'm thinking they might move him out to a right mid role, or... right off the roster.

We'll have to see. Revs are in the state of change. Kelyn Rowe is gone. Lee Nguyen is long gone.

This does help their starting XI, but it doesn't get them to anything close to the top. If he assimilates to MLS things, it just moves the Revs up from out of the playoffs to more... playoff-like.


Player Ratings (avg)TransferMarkt Value (000)
TeamStartersBenchStartersBench
1TFC70.565.4$ 25,027$ 3,502
2NYC70.564.6$ 16,303$ 4,470
3ATL70.466.7$ 49,014$ 14,484
4DCU69.756.6$ 21,934$ 2,990
5NYR69.764.9$ 20,192$ 3,745
6MIN69.657.1$ 13,800$ 4,470
7MTL69.665.2$ 13,410$ 4,876
9CLB69.366.2$ 24,671$ 4,180
9NER69.165.6$ 13,955$ 5,811
10PHI68.256.5$ 9,933$ 5,529
11FCC68.164.3$ 11,420$ 4,790
12CHI67.863.7$ 17,022$ 3,955
13ORL67.262.2$ 10,365$ 3,309 

If they can manage to keep Fagundez, this team looks alright in making the playoffs.

Minnesota United: A Quick Look, Opara

After giving up more goals than any other MLS team over the last two seasons, Minnesota United added a needed piece to their team yesterday in Ike Opara.

Opara is a decent center-back who has spent the last six seasons working his way into a starting role with Sporting KC. While not a game-changing player, he does add some stability to an otherwise shaky back four.

In order to acquire Opara, Minnesota had to give up about a million in MLS Allocation $. While it's still a little early to say exactly what allocation money is worth, I think if you need a position filled... you need a position filled.

Another quality defensive player was recently added as well, Romain Métanire (Stade Reims, France), who appears to be filling a right-back role. On top of that, they picked up Osvaldo Alonso (CDM) from Seattle this year.

These moves fill huge holes, but I'm not sure it's enough as I think a lot of this comes down to the way the team plays. You can't just through players at a problem and expect it to be fixed. That said, I do think this gets them off the mat and into the middle of the pack if they stay healthy (starting XI is old with only 2 players under the age of 28).

Here is how they stack up against the teams in the East that have been evaluated:


Player Ratings (avg)TransferMarkt Value (000)
TeamStartersBenchStartersBench
1ATL71.066.7$ 66,429$ 14,484
2TFC70.565.4$ 25,027$ 3,502
3NYC70.564.6$ 16,303$ 4,470
4DCU69.756.6$ 21,934$ 2,990
5NYR69.764.9$ 20,192$ 3,745
6MIN69.657.1$ 13,800$ 4,470
7MTL69.665.2$ 13,410$ 4,876
9CLB69.366.2$ 24,671$ 4,180
9NER68.764.5$ 13,278$ 5,115
10PHI68.256.5$ 9,933$ 5,529
11FCC68.164.3$ 11,420$ 4,790
12CHI67.863.7$ 17,022$ 3,955
13ORL67.262.2$ 10,365$ 3,309 

You'll notice that their bench is still suspect and they have average value in their starting XI.