Wednesday, October 31, 2012

MLS Player of the Year +

Chris Wondolowski, Helltown Beer Major League Soccer Player of the Year. 2012.

I've rated Wondolowski as the best player in MLS due, in part, to the following reasons:

1. Chris played 92% of all available minutes for Supporters' Shield winner, San Jose Earthquakes. 1a. His 2012 aggregate goal total of 27 equals that of Roy Lassiter's 1996 league record.

2. Best in the league; Goals + Assists (22 G without 5 PKs + 7 A).

3. 2nd in MLS; Goals p90 minutes 0.70 (no PKs, >900 mins). 2nd only to teammate Alan Gordon.

4. 1st in SOG p90 (1.76), 3rd in total shots p90 (42.6% on frame).

5. Within the parameters of my player rating model - Chris floated to number one on April 23, 2012 and never let it go.

Chris was the leader of a San Jose team that adopted the "Goonies never say die" mantra this year. Head Coach Frank Yallop has successfully brought a English style of soccer to MLS and Wondo, with his savviness around the goal and exceptional movement, has really benefited from it. San Jose scored 2.12 goals per game this year, a solid third goal above the next best in the league.

One of the more memorable moments for me this year was when John Terry, possibly the best English defender in a generation - complimented Wondo when he faced him during the 2012 MLS All-Star game (around the 17:40 min mark of that link).

Last year's winner was Todd Dunivant, LA Galaxy. Todd finished 53rd on my list this year, missing 17% of possible minutes due to injury early on. It's notable that without both Dunivant and Gonzalez early in the year the Galaxy struggled. After finding themselves near the bottom of the table for the first quarter of the year, LA managed to finish the season 8th overall and 4th in the West. Due, in large part, to Todd Dunivant getting healthy.

This is all based on the player rating model I created at the beginning of the 2011 season. If you have questions you can email me:

Jimmy Nielsen, SKC

Steven Beitashour, SJE
Justin Morrow, SJE
Brandon McDonald, DCU
Matt Besler, SKC

Kei Kamara, SKC
Graham Zusi, SKC
Eddie Gaven, CREW
Dax McCarty, NYR

Chris Wondolowski, SJE
Fredy Montero, SEA

(My other top players can be found on the right)

Note: Positions are as classified by "Stats, Inc".

Monday, October 29, 2012

Crew Player of the Year

Josh Williams. Helltown Beer Player of the Year, 2012.

Photographer: Alex West

Cleveland Works Blast Furnace, Cleveland

This is a typical night at the Cleveland Works C-5 blast furnace. Locomotives below switch bottle cars filled with molten steel, while the locomotive above works a line of coke cars. The stack emits a bluish flame as it burns off sulfur. These are multiple infrastructures — locomotive, power, coal, and steel — all merged into one location.

Player Photo: International Soccer Network

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Crew Rd. 34: Victory over TFC, Cup

Columbus rounds out the 2012 season on a positive note behind a couple nice goals from Federico Higuain and take home the Trillium cup.


Toronto FC left themselves pretty exposed in the back from the first whistle and the Crew didn't have much trouble finding naked space in the final third. After knocking on the door a number of times Federico Higuain cleaned up a ball in the box and, with a couple nice jukes, went across his body to beat the TFC 'keeper.

The unbalanced scoreline didn't last long because Toronto's Ryan Johnson flipped up a long ball that bounced past a sliding Eric Gehrig that Andrew Wiedeman gathered and put it past a charging Andy Gruenebaum.


The game remained surprisingly open but little quality was to be found. It took a horrible decision by TFCs Terry Dunfield to grab the waist of Higuain in the box for a penalty. Higuain converted the penalty. The score remained 2:1 till the end.


• Exciting match considering the cold and rainy conditions.

• It's been about a year and a half since I've given out a Man of the Match for a Crew game, Carlos Mendes gets the nod from Helltown this week. A really solid game. Solid year really (outside of the injury).

• Beside Mendes was Eric Gehrig - who had a iffy first half but settled in comfortably in the second. Good to see him out there.

• Also notable was Ben Speas seeing his first League minutes. He played well. Here are some posts where I talk about him over the past year.

• [NSFW] Finally, to close this 2012 season... a girl in the Nordecke exposing herself on Fox Sports Ohio as the game ended. The story has almost 20,000 views already. I think the Crew should win something for making Deadspin the most out of any MLS team this year.

• I hope the folks in Crew offices laugh this one off.

• ...and with that, on to the offseason!

Predictions: Crew v. TFC (Last Round)

Even though the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Crew Captains listed as not active today and would like to think otherwise, there actually is a league game today as Toronto visits Columbus to take on the Crew.

Start Time: 1 PM in Riverside, California - 4 PM here in Columbus, Ohio - 5 PM in Santiago, Chile.


• Shortly after Robert Warzycha stated to the press that his normal line up would be taking the field for this last match it was reported that Chad Marshall, Danny O'Rourke and Milovan Mirosevic would likely sit this one out due to minor injuries.
• Columbus has 4 home shutouts this year, had 5 last year.


Bet365 has the Crew at 1/2 odds. 3/1 Draw and 6/1 TFC.

Aggregate betting site WinDrawWin is all Crew. "Your Vote" feature pretty much on default due to lack of interest but favors Crew 58%. "Large Stake" is also on 3:1 Crew win.

Aaron Katzeman shares his frustration with the Crew by picking a 0:2 TFC victory. Katzeman states that Toronto "...will relish the role against a downtrodden Crew team."

Drew Epperley at WV Hooligan is optimistic, "Columbus should control this game from the start and go into the off season with some hope for 2013." Crew 2:0 TFC.

The "Pick 'Em" guys for MLS Corporate all pick the Crew to win. Well... that's a first. Surefire way to jinx the Crew, thanks guys. For what's it's worth, it looks like the director of video is going to be the most accurate. Funny.

Lastly, Adam Jardy of the Columbus Dispatch sums it up poignantly "...the Crew have nothing to play for apart from pride".


Let me get something off my chest; Having a year end awards ceremony before the end of the regular season really says something about an organization and it's hardly surprising to hear that all three 1st Team Captains are calling it a year and not seeing the race out to the finish line. Some might call that quitting.

To me, it doesn't take much for a team to have success in Major League Soccer. 50% of it is with a strong and passionate fanbase, check. Decent facilities, check. Talented and likable players that give a hoot, check, check and (mostly) check.

The other 50% comes from the folks in Soccer Operations, the Mark McCullers and Brian Bliss type folks. The culture in the sales offices, they guys calling the games on radio and TV, season ticket holders... And finally, the coaching staff and backroom.

This half of the organization has to care. Every fiber in their body has to be focused on how to win. How to get better. How to create a better game day experience, how to improve their product on TV. How to make news in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Detroit. Youngstown, Toledo, Dayton, Athens, Gary flipping Indiana. This doesn't mean wholesale changes to staff, it just means acting like things matter. Doing that gets you into the top half of the table in this league.

Was at a wedding last night where the bride and groom danced their first to that Twilight movie- Flightless Bird, American Mouth song. "I'm a fat house cat" lyric fits the current state of this Crew franchise. In fact, the whole tone of the song suits the way the Crew are going out. Who wants to go out after a long season to that song? It sucks (going out to that song - the wedding was nice. It was at the Kelton House on Town St. Pretty neat place, check it out).

Not all is lost and sucks though. I know for a fact that there are a handful of Crew players that will be playing their tails off in front of fans who they realize would sit on nails and follow their team to the end of the earth to cheer them on.

In order for the Crew franchise to change their fortunes (which includes winning and keeping the club in Columbus) they need that passion to travel upstream.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

PART 2: Preliminary Evaluation, Crew

In my last post I took a good look at how players were doing in relationship to the Team as a whole. Looking at it that way sort of gives me an idea on which parts directed the 2012 Columbus Crew.

In this post I'm going to look at the similar topics but instead focus on the average number of points a player earns when starting. The way it works is similar to the way a pitcher earns a win in baseball, with a slight difference; I'm keeping the end match result with the starter even if different when he left the field - whereas a Pitcher only gets a result if it is the same as when he was taken out. Why, you ask?

The reason for this is three fold:

A. Much less scoring in soccer so the impact of the subbed player in soccer doesn't single handedly control the result of the match like a middle reliever or closer can, unless you have a guy named Messi on your bench but even then it would be a statistically rare event.
B. Play / pace / flow of soccer match is dictated by starters. The starters do most of the heavy lifting (good or bad). Much of the match determined by lineup.
C. I only have so much time, cut me some slack! As with any statistic it isn't the exact number that matters, the value in the number is to tell you whether the player contributing positively or negatively. Going out 2 or 13 decimal points is for mathematical engineers who have much more data to digest (and get paid).

I understand if the way I am measuring this is a turnoff, but I find the results valuable and reliable. I'm always trying to find different ways of measuring player and team results. Sometimes it works, sometimes not but always learning as I go.

Now, let's take a look at Average Points Earned per Game (PPG) when each individual player starts against team ranked in the Top Half of the League Table (2012). Why: I want to know who performed best against the best. The Crew finished smack dab in the middle of the table (10th).

2012 PPG v Top H : NAME : GMs STARTED v. Top H

2.20 : Cole Grossman : 5
1.75 : Carlos Mendes : 8
1.75 : Dilly Duka : 8
1.60 : Nemanja Vukovic : 5
1.25 : Emilio Renteria : 8
1.25 : Sebastián Miranda : 16
1.25 : Joshua Williams : 16
1.20 : Justin Meram : 10
1.20 : Chris Birchall : 10
1.18 : Eddie Gaven : 17
1.18 : Andy Gruenebaum : 17
1.14 : Tony Tchani : 7
1.14 : Danny O´Rourke : 7
0.91 : Chad Marshall : 11
0.90 : Jairo Obando Arrieta : 10
0.80 : Julius James : 5
0.44 : Milovan Mirosevic : 9

(Here are the guys with less than 5 starts)
1.50 : Shaun Francis : 2
1.00 : Bernardo Anor : 3
0.67 : Olman Vargas : 3
0.33 : Federico Higuaín : 3
0.33 : Eric Gehrig : 3

I talked about this in my last post but worth mentioning again because the Crew really struggled against top competition this year. Particularly notable at the bottom are Marshall, Arrieta, Mirosevic. James only had 5 starts, so like Grossman at the top, it should be only really looked at as likely trend.

On the positive side I like Mendes and Duka along with Miranda and Williams as the solid performers against the top. Remember, this is only against teams 1-9 on the table.


To put some of the 2012 numbers in perspective I pulled the results for last year for each player when they faced a team in the top half. It worked out to be teams 1-8 on the table since the Crew were 9th.

2011 PPG v Top H : NAME : GMs STARTED v. Top H

2.00 : Rich Balchan : 8
1.86 : Kevin Burns : 7
1.73 : Eddie Gaven : 11
1.57 : Emmanuel Ekpo : 14
1.44 : Chad Marshall : 16
1.43 : Tom Heinemann : 7
1.43 : Julius James : 14
1.40 : Dejan Rusmir : 5
1.40 : Emilio Renteria : 5
1.36 : Joshua Gardner : 11
1.35 : Sebastián Miranda : 17
1.25 : Will Hesmer : 16
1.14 : Andrés Mendoza : 14
1.08 : Robbie Rogers : 13
0.63 : Dilly Duka : 8

(Here are the guys with less than 5 starts)
3.00 : Justin Meram : 2
3.00 : Andy Gruenebaum : 1
1.50 : Bernardo Anor : 4
0.25 : Danny O´Rourke : 4
0.25 : Shaun Francis : 4

Looking at it this way you can see that the 2011 team was better at beating the best in Major League Soccer. 2012 only saw four players with over 5 starts >1.50 PPG. Curious, because as a team the Crew earned a higher avg. PPG in 2012.

The stand outs in 2011 featured mostly players that didn't play this year... Balchan, Burns, Ekpo, Heinemann, Rusmir. Interesting that only Balchan and Heinemann are still with the team (didn't play due to injury).

I'm sure there are a few rolling their eyes at Kevin Burns. The guy, for whatever reason, fell out of favor with fans and management last year. Numbers don't lie - your eyes do (especially after you have been drinking, evaluating from field level or the Nordecke and tweeting the whole time). No question that Burns contributed against quality opposition. Both he and Rusmir performed significantly better than their 2012 replacements (Birchall and Mirosevic). If the move away from Burns and Rusmir had to do with injury or contract than that is one thing, but to replace due to performance and/or results is another. If it is the latter, it was a failure. The time and effort to find, sign and move Birchall and Mirosevic could have been put into something more productive.

Here are the two lists (2011/2012) merged. PPG represents combined results from both years.

2011+2012 PPG v Top H : NAME : GMs STARTED v. Top H

2.20 : Cole Grossman : 5
2.00 : Rich Balchan : 8
1.86 : Kevin Burns : 7
1.75 : Carlos Mendes : 8
1.60 : Nemanja Vukovic : 5
1.57 : Emmanuel Ekpo : 14
1.50 : Justin Meram : 12
1.43 : Tom Heinemann : 7
1.40 : Dejan Rusmir : 5
1.39 : *Eddie Gaven : 28
1.36 : Joshua Gardner : 11
1.31 : *Emilio Renteria : 13
1.30 : *Sebastián Miranda : 33
1.29 : *Bernardo Anor : 7
1.28 : Andy Gruenebaum : 18
1.26 : *Julius James : 19
1.25 : Will Hesmer : 16
1.25 : Joshua Williams : 16
1.22 : *Chad Marshall : 27
1.20 : Chris Birchall : 10
1.19 : *Dilly Duka : 16
1.14 : Andrés Mendoza : 14
1.08 : Robbie Rogers : 13
1.00 : Tony Tchani : 8
0.90 : Jairo Obando Arrieta : 10
0.82 : *Danny O´Rourke : 11
0.67 : *Shaun Francis : 6
0.67 : Olman Vargas : 3
0.44 : Milovan Mirosevic : 9
0.33 : Federico Higuaín : 3
0.20 : Eric Gehrig : 5

* Started more than 5 games both years. Pulling them out looks like this:

1.39 : *Eddie Gaven : 28
1.31 : *Emilio Renteria : 13
1.30 : *Sebastián Miranda : 33
1.29 : *Bernardo Anor : 7
1.26 : *Julius James : 19
1.22 : *Chad Marshall : 27
1.19 : *Dilly Duka : 16
0.82 : *Danny O´Rourke : 11
0.67 : *Shaun Francis : 6

Out of the players to see significant time both years only Dilly Duka and Danny O'Rourke improved (Duka, remarkably so). I believe it has to do with how they were used last year to this. As in 2011 both only saw spot starts while 2012 saw them starting more (O'Rourke still shaky).

The achilles heel for the Crew this year was when regular starters, in particular; new signings late in the year, faced quality teams. The Crew faced teams in the top half of the table an equal 17 times in both 2011 and 2012. 2011 saw two more wins in those 17.

Perhaps this has to do with unbalanced scheduling or perhaps it just has to do with new players adjusting to new lives in a different city (or country). The answer isn't really clear.

What is clear is that I hope the team makes informed decisions about players going into this offseason. Personal feelings, vendetta's, cultural differences, revenge, fan outrage/favor or bias should always take a backseat to results.

Create a reliable and valuable measurement system - explain the system to your team - reward those who perform above expectations / punish those below.

Is solely looking at record against good teams the only tool to use? Of course not. Is it something that should be valued? I think so.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Preliminary Evaluation, Crew

Only one game left for the Crew but before it all ends I wanted to take a look at different ways to evaluate how the players did this year and, by extension, how team management did.

A tad long on this post and it goes on about stats. Fair warning. If that's what you're looking for - then settle in with your favorite scotch or pour yourself a barley pop. Let's dig in.


Earlier this week Craig Merz brought up Robert Warzycha's poor September/October record with Technical Director Brian Bliss. I can't figure how Merz got his winning percentages there no matter how I cut it.

In his article Merz states Warzycha is "...10-16-5 for a winning percentage of .403" in Sept and October since 2009. That's a total of 31 games and 10 wins in those two months. That comes up as a .323 winning %, not a .403 as Merz states. I also ran it as percent of possible pts earned (a true soccer metric) and that came up 35 pts earned out of a possible 93, or 37.6% earned (.376). I haven't a clue where he got .403 for those months.

[EDIT/NOTE: Thanks to Mr. Steve Sirk for informing me on how Merz got his winning percentage.]
Steve Sirk ‏@stevesirk
@HelltownBeer MLS calculates winning % in the traditional US sense. (W + (T*0.5))/GP

What's funny is that Brian Bliss goes right along with Merz though, saying: “It is an alarming statistic, for sure. We’ve got to delve into this.”

That said, calling out Craig Merz isn't the point of this post. The reason I bring it up is because I need some baseline numbers. The point Merz is trying to make (Warzycha struggles late in seasons) is valid.

Here are the % of Points Won by Warzycha (RW) coached teams:
51.2% : RW Overall
55.6% : March thru August
37.6% : September and October

Note the measurable dip in Sept and Oct. A similar thing happened this year in that the Crew struggled in those months going 3 wins, 1 draw and 4 loss.

So... QUESTION: Is this RW or is it players? No sense in rewinding the clock back to 2009 right now. 2012 saw RW's team earn 41.7% possible points in Sept and Oct, pretty much inline with his normal 37.6% over his coaching career... so lets focus on this year.

49.5% : Possible Pts Earned, 2012
52.0% : Possible Pts Earned, Mar-Aug 2012
41.7% : Possible Pts Earned, Sept-Oct 2012
-10.3 Pt dip in Sep/Oct (bad, but amusingly better than his atrocious career -18 pt dip)

Lets focus on the 49.5% for all of 2012. Below is how each player did as a starter in comparison to the team average (above or below 49.5, minimum of 5 starts):

+23.8 : Cole Grossman
+14.1 : Carlos Mendes
+13.8 : Federico Higuaín
+12.4 : Dilly Duka
+10.5 : Bernardo Anor

+06.1 : Danny O´Rourke
+03.4 : Jairo Obando Arrieta
+01.8 : Joshua Williams
+01.5 : Sebastián Miranda
+00.5 : Shaun Francis
+00.5 : Chris Birchall
+00.5 : Emilio Renteria
+00.0 : Eddie Gaven

+0.0 : Replacement (Team)

-01.6 : Andy Gruenebaum
-01.9 : Julius James
-02.3 : Chad Marshall
-05.1 : Nemanja Vukovic
-05.5 : Milovan Mirosevic

-10.1 : Justin Meram
-11.4 : Olman Vargas
-11.4 : Eric Gehrig
-16.2 : Tony Tchani

Some interesting players doing much better than the team average, but it doesn't really tell the full story. What you see up there is how it looks over the entire year. The Crew finished smack dab in the middle of the table; 10th out of 19 teams.

How about we tease out results versus the top half of the table only. The Crew's average against the Top Half of the table in 2012 is 39.2% Total Possible Pts Earned. Here is how Crew players did against that number (minimum of 5 starts).

+34.1 : Cole Grossman
+19.1 : Carlos Mendes
+19.1 : Dilly Duka
+14.1 : Nemanja Vukovic

+02.5 : Joshua Williams
+02.5 : Sebastián Miranda
+02.5 : Emilio Renteria
+00.8 : Justin Meram
+00.8 : Chris Birchall
+00.0 : Andy Gruenebaum
+00.0 : Eddie Gaven

+0.0 : TEAM

-01.1 : Tony Tchani
-01.1 : Danny O´Rourke
-08.9 : Chad Marshall
-09.2 : Jairo Obando Arrieta

-12.5 : Julius James
-24.4 : Milovan Mirosevic

Whoa... What happened to Milovan Mirosevic? And Federico Higuain didn't accumulate more than 5 starts against good teams??

There are some notable players whose possible points earned drastically changes versus good competition. Here is the difference if you compare the full season to how they did against top clubs.

+15.1 Tony Tchani
+10.9 Justin Meram
+10.3 Cole Grossman
+09.0 Nemanja Vukovic
+06.7 Dilly Duka
+05.0 Carlos Mendes
+02.0 Emilio Renteria
+01.6 Andy Gruenebaum
+01.0 Sebastián Miranda
+00.7 Joshua Williams
+00.3 Chris Birchall

+00.0 Eddie Gaven

-06.6 Chad Marshall
-07.2 Danny O´Rourke
-10.6 Julius James
-12.6 Jairo Obando Arrieta
-18.9 Milovan Mirosevic

Tchani, Meram, Grossman and Vukovic really stepped up against tougher opponents this year. When I ran these numbers I struck me as odd to see these players rising to the challenge of good opponents, so I decided to look at the percentage of games each player played against top clubs. For players with over 5 starts, it looks like this:

73% : Carlos Mendes
70% : Cole Grossman
67% : Justin Meram
65% : Dilly Duka
65% : Chris Birchall
59% : Jairo Obando Arrieta
58% : Julius James
57% : Tony Tchani
55% : Joshua Williams
53% : Andy Gruenebaum
52% : Eddie Gaven
50% : Sebastián Miranda
47% : Nemanja Vukovic
46% : Emilio Renteria
46% : Chad Marshall
43% : Danny O´Rourke
38% : Milovan Mirosevic

Again, Federico Higuain didn't even make five starts against the top half of the table. What the hell gives with Milovan Mirosevic?


Only 9 of Mirosevic's 26 starts were against good teams. He won a grand total of 0 in those 9. You read that right. ZERO. He was 0 wins, 4 draw, 5 loss when starting against top half teams. Not only did he face the least amount of tough talent, he had the worst record against them. It's terrible and might be the single most damning stat against any individual player.

To further drive home the point on Mirosevic against top talent; Here's how each player looks as far as average goal difference when "on the pitch" versus teams 1-9 on the table (this includes when a player comes on as a sub)...

Goal Diff : Name

+1.00 : Cole Grossman
+0.80 : Nemanja Vukovic
+0.63 : Dilly Duka
+0.50 : Carlos Mendes
+0.00 : Justin Meram

-0.06 : Joshua Williams
-0.06 : Sebastián Miranda
-0.10 : Chris Birchall
-0.14 : Tony Tchani
-0.14 : Danny O´Rourke

-0.17 : TEAM

-0.18 : Andy Gruenebaum
-0.24 : Eddie Gaven
-0.25 : Emilio Renteria
-0.40 : Jairo Obando Arrieta
-0.60 : Julius James
-0.64 : Chad Marshall
-0.67 : Milovan Mirosevic

The same players keep showing up at the top and at the bottom of these metrics but put weight in the Goal Difference when on the pitch against top half of the table, if you put any value in any of it.

The more and more I shape the numbers of the past year the more I see that too much trust might have been put in players like Mirosevic, Marshall, Higuain and even Arrieta. As talented as they may be, they couldn't get it done against better talent (or in Higuain's case, not even faced it).

My hope is that Brian Bliss puts value into results and not gut feelings. His "We’ve got to delve into this" comment is telling. Either he is playing dumb or he really doesn't know or track valuable metrics that will make his team better.

Look, I'm no expert on statistics... I'm an Ops Manager who does work in central Ohio. What I'm pulling here isn't over the top for anyone with access to Excel and a little bit of time.

I can see the missteps in the productivity of certain players but doesn't it come down to who puts these guys out there match in and match out? Of course the responsibility falls on the head coach but doesn't it also fall on the team administration? They are the folks that negotiate salary, which in turn results in playing time. Should they be held most accountable?

Does the Crew hold anyone accountable?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

"The Torg" (Part II and the Final Chapter)

Last Wednesday I wrote about the suspension of 97.1 The Fan's Scott Torgerson and a little bit about the situation swirling around it. You can find that HERE.

I stated then that this suspension felt a little different and, lo and behold, it's true. Earlier today the official Twitter feed (fitting) of 97.1 The Fan announced that Scott Torgerson is "no longer employed by our company" and Mike Ricordati, Torgerson's former co-host, confirmed the news on the radio as well.

Considering what it was that got him fired, it's sad to hear. I'm not so much down about Scott Torgerson, a husband and father of three, losing his job because I'm sure he will find work elsewhere and perhaps even use this experience to gain employment. I feel for the folks he worked with and the station that his show supported.

They, Mike Ricordati and Scott Torgerson, provided local programming on a local radio station. These guys held up a sports station built only around The Ohio State Buckeye football program giving listeners something even after the season was over.


It does. But maybe I'm spoiled. I spent the first 18 years of my life up near DC. I was too young to remember most of it but I was there when Howard Stern got on at DC101. What I can remember is friends passing tapes of his DC101 afternoon show years after he was gone. To this day, legends are still told about the early 80s stint there. Stern, as Torgerson, has not been fired for controversial statements with the public but stupid things about powerful people at their stations.

Listen to Stern rip into John Hayes, Vice President and General Manager of WNBC-AM. Hayes and DC101 dumped Howard Stern shortly after. That was nearly 30 years ago. Radio is still trying to catch up.

I'm not trying to say Scott Torgerson is Howard Stern (get that out of your mind), but the situation is similar. Columbus, Ohio is the Sports Mecca of Sports Mecca: College Football. In 1980s Stern was in Washington, DC during Ronald Reagan's first term. To say that in both situations you have some very large egos that damage easily is a gross understatement.

Here in Columbus, The Buckeye is King. The Buckeyes, for better or worse, are a literal gravy train that often feeds the monster that is ESPN. We are a sports crazed nation and Columbus, Ohio just might be her capital (this comes from a guy who spent a decade in the heart of ACC Basketball country as well).

Scott Torgerson took a swipe at an ESPN employee who co-hosts "College Football Gameday" with a former Buckeye and color man, Kirk Herbstreit, who calls games with broadcasting legend, Brent Musburger. Did you happen to see that ESPN All-Access: Ohio State Training Days recently? You think that happens by accident? How about we ask new Buckeye Head Coach Urban Meyer about the relationship any successful football program has to have with ESPN.

I really hope "Real Buckeyes" read up on Urban Meyer's relationship with the local press in both Utah and in Florida. Meyer could care less about your local shit. Step in line.

Torgerson has been swept aside like the other local personalities at 97.1 The Fan will be over the next couple years. Columbus, Ohio is Buckeyeland - and that means a national product that has no room for small time antics and/or dissenters. ESPN now has a more solid foothold here and will not let go.

I feel for the folks whose lives will be affected by the firing of "The Torg". Long live the local guy. The little guy.

Long live Scott Torgerson in our radio memories.

(I don't- nor will I ever- sell ad space on Helltown. I prefer those fighting from behind, doing it their own damn selves, and earning it through hard work and honesty. Go Crew.)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Crew News and Notes! (more just notes, really)

Only one game remains for the Crew but plenty of things hanging out there that are important and deserving of a post and / or attention but won't get it.

1. Coach Warzycha catching heat from fans.

Nothing new here but the argument against him is getting stronger. From my perspective, I see a team that is falling further down the table each year.

Year : Conf Rank : League Rank
2009 : 1 : 1
2010 : 2 : 5
2011 : 4 : 9
2012 : 6 : 10

In the offseason I'll dig in more but the above is really about all I need to see. There should have been more correction last year at the management level. Changing players (ie. FTEs in my world) hasn't changed the direction of this club. Crew Reserve team is good - Brian Bliss is finding talent, odd to see erosion on the table. Quick conclusion; Players ain't the problem, somewhere else.

1a. Be Massive Soccer spells out the direction Warzycha is going, expertly. Read it, he done write better more then me.

2. Eddie Gaven, Helltown Top 20

Mr. Gaven will end the season ranked in my top 20. It's not perfect, but I haven't changed my rating model since April of last year. Gaven is the only Crew player to get in the top 20 both years. On top of the impressive numbers he has put up, he has been the consummate team player through all the changes this year.

2a. Behind Eddie's 10th place rating in the league I see Andy Gruenebaum ranked 46th and Sebastian Miranda at 48. Josh Williams (80th) and Milovan Mirosevic (90th) round out the rest of the Crew players in the top 100.

3. Josh Williams, Overperforming

Speaking of my top 100 MLS player rankings... There are only three players making less than $50,000 in my top 100. Two San Jose players in Steven Beitashour and Rafael Baca then Josh Williams. The Median Guaranteed Salary of the Helltown Beer top 100 is $170,950 ($145,875 for Defenders). Again, I haven't messed with my model since last year.

4. Justin Meram, Gold

Of players with over 900 minutes, Meram ranks #47 in Goals + Assists pGM. Only three people in the top 50 here make less than $100,000 in guaranteed dunkets. MLS clearly values attacking players; Median for this group is $195,164.

While I'm at it, watch the two goals the Crew had against DC last Saturday again. Meram a huge part in both. Smart, skilled passes.

5. Paging Dr. Pepper

Crew DP Federico Higuain shows up right behind Alan Gordon and Thierry Henry on the Goals + Assists now because he has crossed 900 minutes, but it doesn't feel quite right. He was credited with an assist last game (dubious) but before that hadn't contributed directly in seven or eight appearances. Still thinking competition level has a lot to do with what we will see going forward with him.

6. Noise Again About Crew Move.

Don Garber again talked about the Hunt ownership group selling the Crew to fulfill his desire for one team, one owner plan. The goal is to find a local person(s) or group to purchase the club first so it stays in town. No word on that timeline though. I will say for the team to stay in Columbus it will have to be someone with passion for the franchise over making money.

I'm sure there are plenty of folks out there wanting to get into soccer in the US for under the $100 million expansion tag and I'm positive that more outside of town that would rather put the club in a market where more money could be made.

It's hard to imagine MLS without the Columbus Crew but Garber refuses to let it go. What other club get's talked about in this way? It almost seems predetermined that the team is leaving in the next 5-10 years. If so, I'll lead the charge to get a NASL or USL team the very next day.

7. Reserve League Champs

Congrats to Ricardo Iribarren and the folks who played lots of minutes on the Reserve team. Another 1st place finish. Special congratulations to Eric Gehrig, who Captained the team.

7a. Speas 18

Speaking of Reserves, good to see Ben Speas in the 18 on Saturday. I've watched way too much MLS for my own good over the past couple years... Speas can play at this level now. Should be interesting how far he can go.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

How to Improve the Columbus Crew

Who are you whom I so faintly hear?
Who urge me ever on?
What voice is this that speaks within me...
guides me towards the best?
We shall make a new start.
A fresh beginning.

- from Terrence Malick's The New World screenplay, which was based on Captain John Smith's journals.

Capt. J. Smith (Malick) continues...

Here the blessings of the earth are bestowed upon all. None need grow poor. Here there is good ground for all, and no cost but one's labor. We shall build a true common wealth, hard work and self reliance our virtues.

(that last part is just for me and this blog).

Crew Rd. 33, No Playoffs

DC United eliminated the Columbus Crew from the playoff picture last night, winning 3:2.

Even though DC came out hungry in front of 19k at RFK it was the Crew that scored first when Eddie Gaven cleaned up a failed clearance for a goal in the 7th minute. Most of the jawing and fouling stopped with Gaven's goal but the intense play continued.

In the 39th minute 1st year player Nick DeLeon cleaned up an Andy Gruenebaum perry to tie it up, but the knotted 1:1 scoreline did not last long. The Crew's Jairo Arrieta sent a right footed blooper in on Bill Hamid goal that clanked off the post but ricocheted off Hamid's heel into the net. From there the Crew only held their 2nd lead of the match.

The frenetic pace of the first half continued but you got the sense that Columbus just didn't have another goal in them as they aren't use to playing a full 90 at full speed. The effort and heart were there but the quality just wasn't for the Crew. The two shots on goal the Crew did have were goals so technically Bill Hamid did not have to make a single save on the stat sheet.

DC kept the tempo up and put 5 shots on frame in the 2nd half. Two of them went in. Marcelo Saragosa with one low and past Gruenebuam's left side to tie it up and one from Lewis Neal in stoppage time that caught the Crew pushing forward in desperation.

• Who schedules a team awards ceremony before the end of the season? The Crew. Can't seem to find DC's and Houston's is scheduled for November 27th.

• Crew Defending : Awful over last 10 games with a Goals Against average of 1.60 a game, same rate as New England over the past 10.

• Only Portland, Chivas and Toronto worse than that.

• Crew made a handful of changes over the course of the year that cost them a shot at the playoffs. Managing to go from one of the best defending teams in August to one of the worst in October is mindboggling.

• Plenty of time to sort this season out now that it is effectively over but I will say that the quality to beat teams above them in the table was lost somewhere around the time Jairo Arrieta and Federico Higuain joined the club.

...makes the September 5th 0:2 match at New England particularly meaningful. The only club lower on the table to beat them since April.

...the last time the Crew managed to beat a team above them on the table was 15 games ago, July 21st. Against DC.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Predictions: Crew v. DC (Rd. 33)

The Crew are in Washington, DC tonight to take on United. Cool fall temps should greet the 19k folks at RFK for the 7:30 PM EST start.

• Crew eliminated tonight if they fall to DC and Houston win against Philly
• DC hasn't lost at RFK since week 1
• DC Home last 5: 10 GF, 6 GA
• Crew Away last 5 is reverse of DC: 6 GF, 10 GA
• J. James did not travel to DC


New resource / tool this week (and probably only this week) is that I simulated 20 Crew v. DC EA FIFA 13 games. The fake Crew dropped 9 with 5 wins and 6 ties. Edge went to DC but painfully little scoring from other side. I picked up some interesting things from this exercise including, but not limited to, insanity. More at the bottom of this post.

(Here's a Meram goal in the meantime)

"I think [United] get their playoff ticket punched this weekend." No doubt in Drew Epperley's mind this week. Crew are going down 2:1.

Aaron Katzeman (Massive Report) believes, "A sell-out home crowd will help D.C. pick up a point."

The spry young fellows at Major League Soccer - Soccer government offices are leaning the way of DC. Not definitive though, two votes for Crew with one draw out of six.

Bet365 is in on a DC win (10/11 fav) and the "Your Vote" feature on WinDrawWin see's a Crew win only getting 14%. Incidentally, The Philadelphia Union are only getting the same 14% vote, and they are at home. The crisp tracksuits thinking the Eastern Conference playoff attendees will be settled tonight.

Adam Jardy (local Columbus Crew beat writer) again offers up a scenario on how the Crew can win, saying: "If Arrieta can make life difficult on United's central defenders and Higuain can find a wa..." ugh, forget it.

Here, let me save everyone out there loads of time next year with their game previews and matchups: "If Arrieta and Higuain play well tonight the Crew should see this one out."


Last I checked, Columbus suits up 18 players when the whistle blows. Has it gotten to the point in the magical land of Crewternia that the latest signings are always responsible for the Win and not the Loss?

Speaking of some other players contributing to the result, Columbus is again changing up the Center Back tandem because Julius James is out and Carlos Mendes is being pegged as the starter alongside Chad Marshall. Mendes has played well this year but I'd rather see someone who has gotten regular time on the pitch over the last month in that spot (Josh Williams or Danny O'Rourke) for a game as critical as this.

In order for the Crew to win against this DC team they must remain organized. Without De Rosario, DC has been sloppy, erratic and downright unwatchable. That said, they have been gutting games out recently and getting results. Like I said a couple posts ago, Columbus needs warriors, heart and hustle tonight over talent. If not? The Crew are going down... hard.

The vibe on this game is a DC win. With a home crowd and first time making the playoffs in however many years it seems almost a lock. Throw in recent noise about ownership changes in Columbus (again) and the annually occurring and absurdly timed "2012 Crew Team Awards Ceremony" next weekend on Tuesday(?!?) and you have a team that puts the good guys willing to fight at the bottom of a mountain with a 1 ton boulder in front of them.


So I simulated 20 Crew v. DC matches. Technically the Crew were playing home for all 20 because after a 5 sims on the road it became a grind, Crew were losing and not scoring.

Another thing I did to mix it up and keep it interesting was to change lineups in 5 game chunks. Example, 5 games with Robert Warzycha's normal formation and lineup then a set of games with my preferred lineup and so on. Honestly, didn't matter much who played, the results were about the same. Crew would win 1 in 5. The only line up that did better was one that lined up with one DM in a diamond MF featuring the "Costa Rica Connection" at the top (Olman Vargas and Jairo Arrieta). The managed 2 wins in 5.

All in all, spending however many hours watching the CPU battle it out was about a 3 on the 10 scale of video game fun. It got to be like groundhog day after a while mainly because only five times did both teams score in one game. By the time I was done, Columbus averaged 0.60 goals per game and DC 0.80, yeesh.

I tracked Results, Player Ratings, Team Passing and Possession. So for what it is worth, here are some stats from the sim:

Points Earned per Start (Best)
1.40: Finlay, Vargas, Justin Meram, Eric Gehrig
1.20: Mendes, Grossman

(Worst) 0.90: Birchall, Higuain, Marshall, Miranda 0.80: James

Team Goals For per Start (best)
0.70: Meram, Mendes, Grossman, Birchall, Miranda

Avg Game Rating (best)
6.8: Arrieta
6.7: Vukovic
6.6: Finlay, O'Rourke, Renteria, Birchall, Meram

Nobody had a positive GD. Finlay and Vargas did have an even one.

I guess if a conclusion is to be made from these 20 simulated games it is that if EA has anything to say with tonight's result, I'll be 0:1 DC. Free-flowing and fluid - it will not be, very fews goals, and Finlay does pleasantly well at Right Back.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"The Torg" [UPDATED]

Scott Torgerson co-hosts a show locally here in Columbus, Ohio called The Common Man & The Torg which airs on WBNS-FM 97.1 The Fan. Torgerson was suspended earlier this week for the following tweet:

"I wish Desmond Howard would get fired or die so I can watch Gameday again"

Columbus is a unique sports town that is difficult to label. I'll never forget catching Game 4 of the 2008-09 NHL Conference Quarterfinals between the Detroit Red Wings at Columbus Blue Jackets on TV. I have never seen a crowd as rabid as the Columbus fans at Nationwide Arena were for that game. All the fans stood, yelled, screamed and pounded on the glass the entire game. The ice felt about 5'x4'. The CBJ lost that game and with it, the series. It was (and is) the only time the CBJ have made the playoffs. To this day I rate that TV event as one of the most unique I've ever experienced.

That experience was very similar to the recent US Men's Soccer team game at Columbus Crew Stadium. Just a wild atmosphere that even Nike took notice of, tweeting: Well done Columbus, we see you.

You also have the Columbus Clippers, a Triple A affiliate for the Cleveland Indians, that draws pretty well at its beautiful downtown stadium and (of course) the Columbus Crew, who I writ much. Modest, yet hungry, crowds attend both.

All that said, the big dog is The Ohio State University and her football program. 110,000 people pack The Horseshoe each home game. There is easily another 50-100k that travels to the stadium area as well. 200k people migrating to a specific location for a sporting event isn't a news blurb -- it is a regularly occurring Event on Roman-fucking-Empire gladiator like levels.

However, Here be where our troubles begin and end.

Mike Ricordati and Scott Torgerson have become my normal afternoon listening over the years. One of the reasons I can relate to them is because both are from out of town and are around my age.

I've spent a significant amount of time commuting to and from work in my lifetime and in that time I've floated between NPR, Howard Stern, Don Imus, bluegrass (the Virginia/NC goodness godness), classic rock, modern rock, college awful (and good, zzzZZz), and endless streams of local sports guys in: Northern Virginia, Washington DC, Baltimore, MD, Virginia Beach, Raleigh, NC, and now Columbus, Ohio. All these places I've lived in, not just traveled to.

"The Common Man and The Torg" aren't "breaking the rulz" or "shock jocks", as some national outlets and blogs (that I like, mind you) have written. Ricordati and Torgerson have a solid sports program that I enjoy. It's not just me either... The President of the United States appeared on their program just a few weeks ago. To my knowledge, they are the only radio program in Ohio, Sports or otherwise, to get an exclusive interview with him during an election year. This is a testament to the size and quality of their sports show.

Scott Torgerson wasn't placed on "indefinite leave" for an insensitive tweet. He was suspended for making a flippant comment about Kirk Herbstreit's co-worker/host on ESPN's College GameDay. Herbstreit, a former OSU quarterback, is ESPN's goldenboy. He came out and ostracized Torgerson for his tweet and Torg was suspended.

No doubt this could all be a show to drum up listeners, but it feels a little different to me. It feels like Herbstreit swinging his big stick and little dick to protect his co-worker (Desmond Howard, who does a pretty poor job in reality) and might have inadvertently destroyed a local sports radio station. It also smacks of jealousy on Herbstreit's part, who appears weekly on this station, that could stem from the interview with the POTUS that he wasn't a part of. But who am I to say.

Herbstreit, it should be mentioned, had to move out of Columbus for fear of his life because OSU football fans were making threats towards his family. He and his family now live in Nashville, Tennessee.

I'm hoping to hear that Scott Torgerson will be returning to his post soon. It was a a tweet, folks. Also, it's his job to get people like me writing about it. Job done, with little harm done. Forgettable.

Columbus Sports, ladies and gentlemen. Somewhere in this post you'll find it.

Hey, I hear the Hex match with Mexico might be played at Crew Stadium. Play it where the fire burns hot, man. Where the fire burns hot. Say your prayers it ain't here, El Tri. Goodness me.

[UPDATE OCT 24 2012 1:46 PM: via 97.1 The Fan Twitter: @thefan "Scott Torgerson is no longer employed by our company as of today. We appreciate his contributions and wish him well in his future endeavors."]

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Man with War in his Name

Columbus travels to RFK this coming weekend to take on DC United at 730 PM EST. Simultaneously, the Houston Dynamo will be kicking off in Philadelphia against the Union. The Crew will be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss and Houston Win.

The Crew narrative for the 2012 season can be easily summed the same way any novel can be: In three Acts. Setup, Confrontation and Resolution.

ACT I: From bungling the first third of the season - in which we saw loses to three teams currently ranked far below them on the table. To ACT II: Over performing in the middle third; beating FIVE teams in the top six on the league table. And now settling in ACT III: For the last third of this season the Crew are beating who they should and losing to those ranked above them on the table. A reversal of the 1st two thirds of the season.


The most important and impressive part of this season was ACT II / the middle third / Games 10-20. This Crew team fought, punched and battled in that middle part. Without Chad Marshall in 3 of the 5 wins or Milovan Mirosevic starting in any - they beat Seattle, Chicago, Salt Lake, DC and Sporting KC.

By the time the dust settled on ACT II the Crew had played 8 of the 10 games against top 6 teams and went 5 wins, 1 draw and 2 loss. This impressive and defensively stout part of season featured players you might not have thought yet ones that are generally seen as warriors.

Starts between GM 10-20 : Warriors
5 : Sebastián Miranda
5 : Joshua Williams
5 : Andy Gruenebaum
5 : Eddie Gaven
4 : Carlos Mendes
4 : Dilly Duka
3 : Chris Birchall
3 : Justin Meram
3 : Cole Grossman
3 : Emilio Renteria

Were I to go into a must win battle right now, I would take these guys. They did it during the hot summer months and against the best competition the league has to offer.

Let's rearrange the list above into a starting lineup, shall we?

GK: Gruenebaum
RB: Miranda
CB: Williams
CB: Mendes
LB: **
CM: Birchall*
CM: Grossman*
LM: Duka
RM: Gaven
CF: Justin Meram
ST: Renteria

Say what you will about these guys but one phrase you won't hear often is "lack of effort". That said, a lot of times you hear about "effort guys" or "foxhole guys" in a belittling kind of way. Not this bunch. They won without the spotlight on them and they will win with it. You will get everything out of this group.


Games 21-32 have seen the Crew play 5 teams in the top half of the table and No Wins, 3 Drawn and 2 in the Loss column versus them. The other games have been against teams outside the playoff race and floundering at the bottom.

So what gives? How can a team go from beating the best in the league to struggling against them? I work in a performance based industry (manufacturing) where the stakes are just as high, so I'm interested. If I were to see results changing over the course of a year like the Crew, I'd want to know why.

Success at anything takes shape through proven process. If you are changing things just to change things in manufacturing then you are wasting time and money. If you control change properly you improve on previous results. What the Crew have managed is to completely lose ground against better teams. Why? How? It has to do with change management.

The change, in large part, has to do with mid-season signings of Chris Birchall, Jairo Arrieta and Federico Higuain. This is the change. Birchall and Arrieta straddled the middle part of the season but Federico Higuain has not. Be it better competition or just that teams focus on him, Higuain has gone silent against better teams (Arrieta has remained consistent).

Anytime you alter the inputs to your process you are going to get different results. The new signings have altered the face and shape of the Crew into something different then what was happening in the beginning and middle part of the season (ACT I and II, to keep with the post theme).

My favorite ACT (II) saw a group of players outside the current starting XI. If we go back to that group I listed and match them up with the current starting lineup, you see this:

GK: Gruenebaum
RB: Miranda
CM: Birchall

Two guys. You could even argue that Birchall isn't even playing the same spot. I mean... really? Even if Robert Warzycha thought he had a bunch of overachievers, change was not necessary.

Gaven purposely missing because is playing almost solely at left mid now that Mirosevic is bossing the middle (central and forward). Gaven is better when switching between right and left and middle. The middle part of this season is proof. Yet, he yields to Mirosevic when he starts.

What makes Eddie Gaven a good man, keeps him off the National Team. You'll get that if you watch this Crew team.

So, I'm sitting here trying to figure exactly what it is that I'm proposing. Honestly, I'm caught a bit between things. Changing away from what has been a consistent lineup over the past 10 games to something from mid-season would be introducing yet another change that might have disastrous results. That said, the stable lineup of the past 10 games can't beat a team higher up on the table. When I say they can't, I mean they haven't (zero wins in 5).

Of the teams outside the Crew, I keep a closer eye on DC because that's where I'm from. My roots with that club go back to the very beginning. Things change though. Life changes. I moved from DC down to NC and now to Ohio. The Crew are an easy team to like, it's one of their greatest qualities.

For the Crew to beat this Ben Olsen version of United it is imperative the Crew mix it up. DC's play since Dwayne DeRosario has gone down has been erratic, yet successful. Olsen will have his team ready which means leg breaking tackles and getting physical with the Crew. This is Olsen's way. Knock him down and he will pay it back 10 fold.

The Crew need to be prepared to be physical back. If not, they will lose.

It won't be popular but Warzycha needs to put his warriors out there to counter Olsen's aggressive style. Otherwise Benji will eat the Crew alive.

*Believe it or not Birchall and Grossman have featured in 3 games together. I win against DC and at Sporting and a Draw against LA.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

MLS Year over Year Consistency

Taking a look at how well clubs that keep players from the previous year to this year do. My regular focus is on the Crew but I do record and track the stats from all the other teams in Major League Soccer.

When certain conditions merge, I'll post up some league stuff.

1. Time (Thursday)
2. Bourbon (Elmer T. Lee)
3. Music (Phenomenal Handclap Band)

So, there are some data things that point towards keeping players together year over year. Here are teams that have the most returning players that have seen time in 2011 and 2012.

% Players both 2011 and 2012 : Team
67% : Houston
61% : Real Salt Lake
60% : San Jose
60% : Sporting KC
59% : FC Dallas
54% : D.C.
50% : Los Angeles

I'm cutting it here at 50% to point out that all the above are currently in the playoffs, save for Dallas. Pretty sure they are underachieving.

Here are the rest. Only three teams below 50% are in the 2012 playoff.

48% : Toronto FC
48% : Seattle
46% : Columbus
45% : Colorado
45% : Portland
45% : Vancouver
44% : Chicago
39% : New England
38% : Philadelphia
30% : New York
28% : Chivas USA

Important to call out LA Galaxy here. They spend the money but have kept a core group together. Slow start for them but doing well now.

Oddballs, NY and CHI have also cut the number of minutes the carryovers get. In my book it's bad enough that CHI only kept 12 of their current 27 league minute gainers. I calculate a 12% decrease in minutes for the 12 guys that hung in since last year. NY has a 27% decrease in mins for their lowly 8 carryovers.

Speaking of Carryovers from last year. Here is the number by dudes ending 2011 and 2012 with the same club. I put a * by the playoff teams.

16 : *Houston
16 : FC Dallas
16 : *Los Angeles
15 : *San Jose
15 : *Sporting KC
14 : *Real Salt Lake
14 : Toronto FC
13 : *D.C.
13 : *Seattle
13 : Columbus
13 : Colorado
13 : Portland
13 : *Vancouver
12 : *Chicago
11 : New England
11 : Philadelphia
08 : *New York
08 : Chivas USA

Bottom line here is to keep players together. I have one last thing here to hammer things home on the consistency front. It's minutes with the same team, year to year. Of the players that stay with the team it's good to keep their minutes stable (perhaps with a slight increase).

With the exception of CHI and NY (again) each team in the playoffs that kept lineups stable, in terms of minutes, are in the playoffs. Below shows % of minutes gained or lost from 2011 to 2012 when only counting the players that played in both years.

+53% : Toronto FC
+33% : Philadelphia
+20% : Columbus

+9% : San Jose
+7% : Sporting KC
+6% : Los Angeles
+5% : Real Salt Lake
+4% : Houston
+6% : Seattle
+2% : D.C.

-4% : New England
-9% : Vancouver
-16% : Chivas USA
-12% : Chicago
-27% : New York
-18% : FC Dallas
-21% : Colorado
-26% : Portland

Note the teams in bold. Consistent from last year to this. Combine that with retaining talent and you get a winning formula.

The more people you can keep together longer, is good. Minimize unnecessary change, maintain consistency, and foster an environment of continuous improvement.

The longer I follow this league the more I realize how achievable and simple success in it is.

(It starts with the right bourbon)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Crew Wk by Wk Rank on MLS Table

Below is where the Crew have stood on the complete league table since game 5 of last year. I use the "true table" rank (points per game) because Major League Soccer oftentimes may have teams as many as 5 games apart in some rounds.

Note: This chart ain't winning any beauty pageants, but it does the trick (I think).

Chart Observations.

1. The Crew were better in relationship to the rest of the league last year until the end.
2. Eddie Gaven got hurt towards the end of 2011 and the team suffered combined with...
3. ...Combined with Emilio Renteria getting healthy and shoehorned in alongside Andres Mendoza (it didn't work)
4. The beginning of 2012 stunk, too many new players and lackluster preparation
5. I started at week 5 of 2012 to smooth it out, just because
6. Crew more consistent as year has gone on but may have to do with unbalanced schedule and less time zone travel out west (less outside factors affecting outcomes)
7. Consistency is good and opens the door to stable, measurable and manageable improvement. Key is to keep most of this year's team together

Monday, October 8, 2012

Alan Gordon, USMNT Player

Alan Gordon is the most effective offensive player in Major League Soccer this year.

Alan Gordon's Goals + Assist per 90 minutes is an astonishing 1.39 (13 Goals, 7 Assists in 1297 minutes). That's the best in Major League Soccer when counting all players with 450 minutes or more. He also hasn't gone more than 2 matches without a goal this year and scored a goal in 3 straight games twice.

The reason I'm bringing this up is because he and Jurgen Klinsmann are taking a lot of heat. Not just normal heat, no. Venomous USA superfan vitriol for his inclusion on the national team squad for the upcoming World Cup Qualifying matches.

I'm not some sort of Alan Gordon fan but I have seen him play on a number of occasions this year. What's funny is the lasting impression I have of him is when he scored late on the Crew earlier this year to steal a draw. It was a late game and I was watching the San Jose feed at home in Virginia on my folks computer and there was a post game interview with Gordon where he came off as a grade "A" jerk.

A 1.39 Goal+Assist rate can't be ignored, regardless of the league. It's better than guys like Thierry Henry, Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, David Beckham, Fredy Montero (I have the list on the right of this blog). I know that his role is to come on as a sub and become an instant threat and that's probably how he will be used under Klinsmann.

Alan Gordon is a dangerman and despite his age (30) should absolutely be tried out on the international stage.

Back to the Superfan.

It's a bit of a generalization (but not unfair) to say that the USA Superfan has a very myopic view of soccer. They only watch (and probably support) the best teams and players in the world and focus heavily on international matches. I know this because I was this type of person not many years ago. Telltale superfan signs were on display here in Columbus when the US Men's team was in town. The difference in the way the game is view between a Crew fan and a USMNT fan is stark and miles apart.

What's not uncommon to find a Crew supporter who also follows the USMNT but you'll be hard pressed to find a zealous USMNT who is also a Crew fan (I think that makes sense).

The US Men's team is not anywhere close to where it could and should be and has lacked a true target man for some time. Gordon fits the bill.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Crew Round 32. Draw a Little Hope

It was if the Crew players were looking around for someone else to step up and make something happen for the win. Unfortunately, one of the guys that could do that left injured in the 69th minute.


A quick look at the remaining games for the teams the Crew need to catch for the playoffs and you realize how frustrating today's 1:1 match vs. Sporting KC is.

Before I get to the game, let's get on with...

With 49 points and two games remaining the best the Crew can do is 55 points. DC is sitting on 54 pts / 2 games left, NY 53 pts / 2 games left and Houston 50 pts / 2 games left.

Here is how the Crew will be eliminated.

DCU... Only need a Draw in last two
NYR... A win, or 2 drawn matches
HOU... Win vs. shiitake in PHI (H) and COL (A)

[Well, most of the first half.] I missed the final 6-7 minutes due to some technical difficulties at the Fox Sports Ohio offices. I hear it was that big glowing ball in the center of our solar system kickin' up flares and stuff. Universe 1: The Human Condition :0.

The Crew gave up a goal in the 10th minute to CJ Sapong a la Mr. Graham Zusi. KC looked organized and the much better side for the rest of the half. Arrieta got his chances that have put away lesser teams with lesser 'keepers but with KC's Jimmy Nielsen you need more chances.

Both clubs got sloppy. SKC is a physical side and Columbus played like a bunch of guys who have only played together for half a year. As the 80th minute approached I knew what to expect from Columbus. Chaos and freakout mode. Emilio Renteria provided a beautiful ball to Eddie Gaven who buried it to tie it up. Renteria make assist. So, the freakout worked for the draw but you have to feel 3 points were there for the taking.

The late game energy boost is getting old. It's cool that they have 9 goals in the last 15 minutes this year. Neat. But they have given up 12 in that same time period. Or, to put it another way. 30% of Crew goals given up have been in the last 15 minutes. That puts them in the company of Montreal, Vancouver, Philly and Chivas. 7 ticks above the league average is 23%.

What I would give for a few more guys like Eric Gehrig and Josh Williams on this Crew team instead of these other part time players. Milovan Mirosevic was active but slow, Chris Birchall went AWOL for large portions of the game and Federico Higuain is looking more like he's ready for the winter break.

Predictions: Crew v. SKC (Rd. 32)

Sporting Kansas City is in the Ohio capital tonight to take on the Columbus Crew. 4 PM EST. 1 PM out West.

• Danny O'Rourke serving a Card Suspension (Yellow Card accumulation)
• SKC has shut out last 4 opponents when playing away, yikes
• 3 Wins, 1 Draw in that time for SKC
• Crew home record is now unbeaten in last 7 (6 wins, 1 draw)
• Crew battling of last playoff spot, Win today will put them there
• SKC looking to keep pace for Supporters' Shield

Drew Epperley, WV Hooligan: "The last team to beat SKC was this Crew side and I think they pull the upset again here as well." He's going 1:2 Crew win. Epperley is 40% accurate in picking Crew matches over last 15 games.

Aaron Katzeman at Massive Report doubles up on the 1:2 Crew win scoreline, but for spiritual reasons... "With a pre-match dedication to Kirk Urso at 3:15, Columbus will have the soccer gods on their side tomorrow afternoon." Aaron is correct 53% of the time.

Bet365 is calling it very close but slightly favors Crew (7/5) Draw (9/4) KC (19/10). Peter Coates betting site is 64% correct over last 15.

The fans at and Massive Report are leaning Crew (noted).

The official site of MLS see's this a mixed Draw. 3 pick Draw, 2 Crew, 1 KC. Individually these guys pick wrong (nobody over 50% accurate), but used as a consensus and for Crew games only they are 60% right.

Going against the grain, the wiseguys theorize that KC will win this one (stake on 0:1 KC). The 67% accurate "your vote" section of WinDrawWin is going 48% KC, 29% Draw.

Adam Jardy, beat writer for the Columbus Crew at the Columbus Dispatch, is coy with his pick this week. Instead he opts for what the Crew need to do, and does it in a commanding Master Yoda voice; "An early Crew goal probably would the force the visitors to decide how much they want three points." It's not clear by the way it is written if the Crew have The Force or if SKC do.

What I am sure of is that I don't want "The Force" at this game at all. Does anybody still believe in that ancient religion? (*aannd, I'll just get my coat*)

The Crew have faced a team ranked in the top 5 nine times this year and have gone 4 wins, 1 draw, 4 loss. Not horrible and a record fitting a good mid-table team. However, the Crew haven't really had to face difficult teams lately. Other than Chicago in round 30, the last time was back in Round 20 (loss to DC).

Milovan Mirosevic didn't start any of the 4 wins and Federico Higuain has only played in one of these 9 matches against top 5 clubs (he played in the loss to Chicago). Danny O'Rouke absence is tough for me because I feel you need experienced MLS players against good teams.

Over the last 10 games Columbus has faced teams with an average rank of almost 13th on the table. Rounds 10-20? Opponents averaging 6th on the table.

To pull this off, the Crew are going to need both the soccer gods Katzeman speaks of and The Force that Jardy mentions.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Crew Game Predicting Accuracy

Tomorrow I'll be posting up my normal pre-game "Predictions" for the Columbus v. Kansas City match (in Columbus). In it I will list out how various outlets think the match will go, just as I have done since about halfway through the year. Before I get to my next "predictions" post I wanted to list out how well everyone is doing.

Here's the pick accuracy over the last 15 Crew games for my normal go to places:

67% : Win Draw Win's "Fan Vote" feature
64% : Bet365
60% :'s "Pick 'Em" guys (consensus from the group)
53% : Massive Report's Aaron Katzeman
40% : Massive Report's "Fan Pick" poll
40% : WV Hooligan, Drew Epperley

No percentage for Adam Jardy's "lean" as he does not pick result for each game but have mentioned him 8 times since the KC match back on September 14th with about a 50% accuracy in his "lean". His brief, paragraph long "how I think it will play out" feature in the paper day of the game is usually pretty damn close to what happens.

Like Jardy, I usually "lean" one way or the other and only predict what I think the actual result will be every so often. My lean is influenced by the outlets I list above.

Since Major League Soccer is single entity and takes pride in parity, if you were to just pick Home Crew WIN and Away Crew LOSS you would have a 66% accuracy over the last 15 games. If you did it over the course of the year: 57% - and just picking the team higher up on the table would yield you 60% Crew picking accuracy in the last 15 contests (the table is to be trusted 20 games into the year).

Tomorrows game should be an interesting one to try and foretell. It's a top team playing away against a mid-table team battling for their playoff lives.

Draw they might say... bah! The Crew don't do Draws anymore.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

MLS Team $ Update

The Major League Soccer Player's Union released updated salary figures through October 1st 2012. Below is how each team looks based on Guaranteed Salaries (highest to lowest).

Team : Guaranteed Salary

NYR : 16,728,108
LAG : 12,718,531
TFC : 7,446,624
DAL : 5,286,674
VAN : 5,216,755
MTL : 4,751,370
POR : 4,369,036
SEA : 4,224,311
CHI : 4,145,876
DCU : 4,050,727

CLB : 3,717,509 (Sleeping Dogs, yessir)

RSL : 3,581,445
CHV : 3,572,342
COL : 3,381,886
PHI : 3,356,310
HOU : 3,294,092
SKC : 3,226,599
SJE : 3,174,896
NER : 2,639,981

Lots to dig into after the season, but how about we look at that as compared to rank on the league table (example: San Jose is 17th in salary yet 1st on the table).

+17 : San Jose
+15 : Sporting KC
+07 : Real Salt Lake
+07 : Houston
+05 : Chicago
+04 : D.C.

+02 : New England
+01 : Seattle
+01 : Philadelphia
+01 : Columbus (Nneka, Sleeping Dogs, already)
-01 : Colorado
-02 : New York

-05 : Chivas USA
-06 : Montreal
-06 : Los Angeles
-06 : Vancouver

-09 : FC Dallas
-09 : Portland
-16 : Toronto FC

What's interesting to me is that cities around soccer playing hotbeds do well in out performing contracts. Plenty (plentiful) of new /slash/ cheap American talent to fill rosters in certain areas? I consider talent heavy soccer states to be: CA, OH, MO (midwest), TX, Mid-Atlantic States (VA, MD, PA).

Oddball is Real Salt Lake up there. Wonder what they have cooking, I'll take a look some other time.

I always use "guaranteed" salary over "base". Salaries are posted like this in attempt to hide in plain sight. Never discount the obvious, always question why.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Meram Upcoming

Now that the National Football League is in full swing people are getting an overdose of over-the-top. Regular season games are promoted and pimped like a summer blockbuster. That last tweet by so-and-so is splashed all over the screen. Statements from agents upcoming and I'm sure he loves the city and wants to just get out there and play. Next up; did you know that 67.56873% of the teams that win game 5 of the season make the Super Bowl? ... okay, I made that up.

The methods may change but promoting a sporting even is nothing new. What is new is what happens after the game or event. The lengths outlets go to make what you just saw special has now become part of the show. "This has never happened," or "only four times in history did that happen," is very common after games now.

I'm thinking a lot of it has to do with access to information and data. Show someone how to filter an excel sheet or use a pivot table and you'll get a lot of horseshit out of the mouths of talking heads.

One of the reasons Major League Soccer employs the use of a playoff system is for these reasons. They want more games to matter to more markets. You see Chivas USA over there on the table? They have a 0.93 Point per Game average and are losing each game by an average of almost a goal. If you look closely you'll see that they are not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Christ. With four games left for most teams the second to last place team in MLS is still in the playoff hunt.

Now to Justin Meram.
Meram is on 826 minutes played this year and has put away 4 goals and 1 assist. On the surface, pretty good output. Dig a little deeper though and you'll find that once he hits 900 minutes he'll be in some rarefied air.

Why use 900 minutes? It's 10 full 90 minute games and enough to separate the out of control points. If a player has 900 minutes he has played teams of varying difficulty home and away and has proven to be fit and durable. To put it another way, no luck involved in stats after 900 minutes in soccer.

The rarefied air Justin Meram looks to enter into is the Goal + Assist rate per 90 minutes played with a minimum of 900 total minutes this year. Right now he is sitting on a 0.54 G+A rate, good enough for 34th in the league. On the surface that doesn't see like something to spend time writing a rambling post about but dig one step further...

There is only one player in the top 35 in G+A p90 that makes less than 100 thousand dollars and his name is Justin Meram.

The median salary for the folks in the top 35 is $218,750 per year.

The average salary is $683,649.56 for this group.

Six of the 11 players making over One Million dollars a year are in this over 900 minute / 0.54 G+A p90 club.

Meram has vastly out produced the two players he directly competes with for regular duty in Dilly Duka (0.17) and Emilio Renteria (0.30). The knock on Meram is that he is more undisciplined than whomever starts over him even though his goal diff while he is on the pitch is one of the best on the team (+0.56). It could be that the knock comes from his 3-3-3 record as a starter but when you tease out the difficulty of opponents in those 9 starts you see a average of teams ranked 6th on the league table... this is the most difficult on the team (tied with Cole Grossman).

Meram has only faced 1 team not in the top 9 when starting. His reputation as an inconsistent performer from team offices, writers, bloggers and league watchers probably stems from this, which is unfortunate.

Did you know that Federico Higuain has only faced 1 team currently ranked higher then 12th in the league? Did you also know that in Milovan Mirosevic's 23 total starts he has faced 5 teams in the top 5? The same number Meram has faced in only 9 starts?

The other reputation Meram has is that of "Super Sub". This one sticks for good reason, though. As a 10 time sub his "on pitch" is 7 goals for and only 3 against (as a 9x starter 8 for, 7 against).

At the beginning of the year I flippantly ran a few FIFA 12 simulations and discovered that Justin Meram would be the team leader in goals with around 10. While I may have only been half serious it turns out that if Meram were to get 2065 minutes this year he may have hit that goal. Thats a little under 23 games (keep in mind that 3 of Meram's 4 goals came without the service of Higuain).

While Meram's performance on the pitch puts him at another pay level you have to wonder if he'll get enough time on the pitch until his next contract comes around. His numbers say he should be getting more timeand shouldn't ever be out of the top 18 - but the Crew have been signing everybody and their teammates brother south of Mexico at Meram's regular spots.

What's interesting to me is that they way the Columbus Crew attempted to fix a precived problem is to throw people (and money) at it when one solution might have been right under their noses.

[Helltown Beer Lesson: Always take the appropriate steps in identifying a problem before trying to solve it.]

When you peel away all all the restrictive rules and all the competitive engineering the league puts into place you find players like Justin Meram. There are no "next level stats" or hour long pre-game shows to tease about performance as they look at coaches film. With MLS, you usually get a game recap from someone how watches the game once from field level, or on TV or in the stands writing things up. Looking at my timeline recenlty I notice more of a TMZ feel to the Crew, which is even further off course. Not exactly the kind of environment were players can get noticed for subtle on the field performance.

What you have with Meram is a good player who has earned more time. No outrageous numbers or hype machine exsists to point a light Meram's way. I guess we'll just have to see what the future holds.