Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Zlatan's MLS: All-Time NPG+A Leaders

A couple months ago I wrapped up my Helltown MLS player ratings and noticed that Zlatan Ibrahimovic had a very high number of 1.18 Non-Penalty Goals + Assists per 90 (NPG+A p90) minutes played. So high, that I couldn't recall another MLS player reaching that level. So, I looked it up.

Here here's the list. You have to have played more than 1000 minutes.

1.392012Alan GordonSJ
1.372001Diego SernaMIA
1.232001Alex Pineda ChaconMIA
1.182018Zlatan IbrahimovicLA
1.152012Thierry HenryNY
1.152018Adama DiomandeLAFC
1.142015Sebastian GiovincoTOR
1.132014Robbie KeaneLA
1.132009Jeff CunninghamDAL
1.122001Jeff CunninghamCLB
1.092000Mamadou DialloTB
1.062017Josef MartinezATL
1.052008Landon DonovanLA
1.052015Robbie KeaneLA
1.052015Obafemi MartinsSEA

It was surprising to me that Alan Gordon topped the list, especially since I was neck deep in MLS at that time. Tis true, however. Remembering back, it was the "Goonies" San Jose Earthquake team that Chris Wondolowski (who won Helltown Beer Player of the Year in 2012) lead to a Supporters' Shield. The ended up losing to a motivated David Beckham, Robbie Keane team in the Western Conference semifinals.

Josef Martinez, All-Time MLS Goal Leader

Noticeably absent from the top of this list is Martinez, who this past season set the new record for goals scored in an MLS season with 31. Great season, but not one of the most dominant when looking at total offensive production. 8 of his 31 were from the penalty spot and he only noticed 6 assists. That said, he does have a MLS Cup to his name.

I expect Zlatan to come strong this year, in regards to goals and assists. He missed about a third of last season. With a full season, I fully expect him to be hunting for a number of MLS records.

Looking at these leaders, I see a lot of trophies. Look for LA, if they can get their FO right, to win one or two this year.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Philly dumping picks is good

Yesterday, the Philadelphia Union sold all their college "SuperDraft" picks to FC Cincinnati for $150k in General Allocation (+$50k in performance). Those picks were number 13, 29, 37, 61 and 85 overall.

Ernst Tanner, the Union's Sporting Director (and a German) had this to say; “We would not have benefited very well from the 13th pick,” Tanner said. "I think it was a good decision we took in order to get a little bit more money for other players and increase our flexibility in the future.”

In recent years the college draft has slipped in MLS player acquisition importance. If you look at the last four drafts (2015-2018) you see that only 10 players of the 86 selected in the first round were regular starters and a measly two were sold abroad.

Here are the 10 regular starters.

2015 : Cristian Roldan - Seattle
2017 : Julian Gressel - Atlanta
2016 : Brandon Vincent - Chicago
2016 : Keegan Rosenberry - Philadelphia
2016 : Andrew Tarbell - San Jose
2015 : Tim Parker - New York
2015 : Alex Bono - Toronto FC
2017 : Jake Nerwinski - Vancouver
2018 : Christopher Mueller - Orlando City SC
2017 : Lalas Abubakar - Columbus

About 10 years ago the soccer 1st community started sounding the alarm on the byzantine system that the draft had become. It appears to have finally made it to MLS offices. At first glance it might look like a hair-brained strategy, but digging into it a little bit it does make sense.

In fact, it makes sense just when you consider MLS has a dozen ways to acquire players. There's almost no need to spend the time, effort, travel and new contracts on players when over half of them don't pan out and less than 15% of them become starters.

Not only did Philly save money, but they also added $200k in allocation. It's a smart move that I'm sure the league does not particularly care for, so don't be surprised if new rules are put into place next year to prevent it.


The Union have not been good on or off the pitch in recent years. The team has only made the playoffs 6 of the 9 years they have been in existence. Only one of those three have been at home. Poor play (and stadium location) has led to empty stadiums during the regular season as well which means they have to spend smartly to improve. If they do not, MLS might give them the Chicago treatment and pull them back to the mothership in regards to who is in the front office.

To compound their problems, Philly has 22 bodies listed on the roster right now, only 11 of which are under contract. It's a hodgepodge of players of wildly different skill levels (7 coming up and down from their USL affiliate and academy).

Ernst Tanner joined Philly last summer after 25 years of experience in Germany and Austria and has made it a priority to grow talent instead of buy/acquire it through MLS mechanisms. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out. I've wanted a MLS team to take this path for years.


Who knows where this will leave our friends down in southern Ohio. Their roster is what you would expect an expansion side to be. A bunch of USL system players and spare parts from other MLS teams. They, also, have a roster of 22 currently. With 10 draft picks coming up it looks like they will be over the roster limit going into training camp. It'll be interesting to see who they keep around.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Evidence of Soccer

After working in giant manufacturing and distribution warehouses most of my career, I decided I needed a little air.

Open air, I have found.

I don't have an exact tally on how many properties ("parcels") I have visited over the last eight month's, but my best estimate is north of 3,500. All of them coming in Fairfield and Perry County area in Ohio, both of which are just east of Franklin County (Columbus, Ohio).

Fairfield is turning into a sort of bedroom community of Columbus. It's a mix of both suburb and rural. Outside of a few crossroad towns, Perry is rural. It is where the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains begin to rise.

Beautiful country, no question.

At the start of this journey, I decided to take pictures of every bit of evidence of soccer I happened to find. There's a lot to say about all this and I'll add more color to this project at a later date, but for now - here are raw photos of what I've found.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

MLS Top 10, 21 and Under (2018)

Major League Soccer has a stranglehold on professional soccer in the United States. With Don Garber stating recently that he thinks MLS should be a selling league all the sudden, here's a quick look at MLS players 21 years old and younger that made an impact in the league in 2018.

AgePlayer NameTeamCountryHelltownWhoScoredEA FIFAMedianMLS WageTransfermarkt Value (in millions)
18Alphonso DaviesVancouverGhana6.307.547.907.54$72,500€10.00
20Diego RossiLos Angeles FCUruguay7.857.177.207.20$1,052,000€4.50
19Tyler AdamsNew YorkUnited States7.$146,042€4.50
20Reggie CannonFC DallasUnited States7.306.986.406.98$67,500€0.80
20Auston TrustyPhiladelphiaUnited States6.906.816.606.81$109,100€0.80
21Justen GladReal Salt LakeUnited States6.426.816.906.81$291,700€0.80
20Milton ValenzuelaColumbusArgentina6.216.787.106.78$313,300€1.00
19Ezequiel BarcoAtlantaArgentina5.636.767.406.76$1,425,000€8.00
21Jesús MedinaNew York City FCParaguay5.976.746.906.74$770,833€0.85
21Brooks LennonReal Salt LakeUnited States6.616.806.706.70$237,583€0.70

What I did is take my ratings from the last regular season and match them up with WhoScored and Electronic Art's FIFA series to create a list of the best.

At the top is Davies, who has already set a record in regards to transfer amount out of the league to North America market hungry Bundesliga (Bayern Munich, $16.5 million).

The rest are still in MLS. Many are speed merchants with a little bit of talent. I'm pegging Diego Rossi, who played with Bob Bradley's LAFC, as the next one who might have some value overseas. Outside of that, it's slim pickings.

I do like Milton Valenzuela of the Columbus Crew. A lot depends on how the team looks this upcoming season.

Another one to keep an eye on is Ezequiel Barco, an Argentinian player for Atlanta United.

Helltown Beer MLS Player of the Year

This marks the 8th MLS Player of the Year Award for Helltown. Same rating system I've been using since 2011. It's a simple system that looks at basic "box score" statistics and then weighs how well the team did during the regular season. It's not meant to split hairs, it's purpose since day one has been to give me a general idea of who is playing well.

You can see the complete FINAL list HERE.

2018 WINNER: JOSEF MARTINEZ, Atlanta United

Josef had a big year. MLS Cup Winner and New MLS record for goals in a season.

Past Winners:
2017: Nemanja Nikolics
2016: Bradley Wright-Phillips
2015: Bradley Wright-Phillips
2014: Robbie Keane
2013: Darlington Nagbe
2012: Chris Wondolowski
2011: Todd Dunivant

Goal scoring players have dominated my winner's list five years straight, which lines up with MLS's focus on increasing goals.

Since 2011 I've had 6 forwards, a midfielder and a defender win Player of the Year. I have not changed my methodology since 2011.

Here is a look at the 2018 Top 10:
10.0 : Josef Martínez : Atlanta
9.10 : Bradley Wright-Phillips : New York
8.95 : Miguel Almirón : Atlanta
8.86 : Julian Gressel : Atlanta
8.35 : Graham Zusi : Sporting KC
8.25 : Maximiliano Moralez : New York City FC
8.24 : Cristian Roldan : Seattle
8.13 : Ilie Sánchez : Sporting KC
8.11 : Aaron Long : New York
8.03 : Luciano Acosta : D.C.

Works out with 2 Forwards, 6 Mids, 2 Defenders


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.


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.


- 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.

Pos.CityPWLTGDPtsTop Passers
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 %.


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.
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).