Thursday, February 27, 2014

EPL Shoulder Charged MLS off the Ball

Google Trends is telling us that David Beckham's LA Galaxy arrival turned more US soccer fan interest to the English Prem than to MLS. On top of that bombshell, there are also early indicators that NBC's coverage of the EPL is catapulting the league even farther out in front of the top division in North America.

Since a big part of my day job reacts to what people are looking at online, every once and a while I'll swing by the Google Trends department on the world wide web to see what people are searching for. It is a very simple but effective tool that works for that.

Google Trends is hard to misread or misinterpret because it is so general. Is interest in Taylor Swift going up? How about The Grand Budapest Hotel? What it's giving me is general interest based on specific search terms. After 13 years in the internet retail business universe I can say that this relatively new free tool works pretty well.

The chart at the top of this post is simply looking at how much people in the USA are searching for "major league soccer" and "english premier league". Looking at it I can't help but think that the EPL trendline is what MLS should have been, had it had better leadership. It's almost as if the EPL took the baton from MLS to finish up the rest of the race.

I wasn't surprised to see that MLS and EPL were neck and neck in the first part of the 2000s. There was a go-go attitude to MLS in those early years, yes... but MLS also benefited here from the fact that the US was the only real player online ten years ago and content was driven by US businesses.

That landscape is changing faster than you could possibly imagine, however.

As India and China become more web mature, expect this trend to continue. The world wants to see the best in the world and have no reason to buy into the relentless rah rah USA mantra of MLS.

As a matter of fact, after daydreaming and navel gazing during a recent quarterly meeting review on global connectivity, if MLS wants to look to make a dent in the EPL and other large leagues they should set up scout shops in developing soccer countries instead of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars data mining unaffordable players in Argentina.


Looking at the US chart you can't help but notice last year. Fox Soccer Channel had been carrying the EPL and you could argue that that agreement was the beginning of the baton handoff from MLS to EPL but last year shows NBC's deal taking it to a higher level.

Here is the last 12 months in detail (detail of the far right of the graphs above):

Even last offseason the EPL is getting more interest online than MLS regular season in the US. With the increased exposure on NBC it looks like this year, especially in a World Cup year were many EPL players are participating, the top English league will make more gains in the US market while MLS interest drops.


MLS is expanding, but this is due more to the thirst for live sports and interest in the US men's national team. We live in a world where little league baseball and beer league softball draw all time high ratings on cable and online.

The trick for MLS going forward in the US market will be making gains against those sports online or on cable and not so much the big European soccer leagues (that ship has sailed, unless drastic USSF leadership changes are made).

NOTE: Google is working on aggregating specific search terms in to 'search related to items' as I type, it is in beta. If you want to check it out go HERE.

Lastly: I realize the Google Trends tool is not the be all end all in gauging success. I'm only using it here as a publicly available one that clues us in to what's happening in the US and the rest of the world.

Bouncing it off the tools I have within the industry, it's close enough. This is just looking at EPL, nevermind the rest of Europe and emerging markets in the East.

Columbus and the Crew to Build Finest Soccer Stadium in the United States Just West of Brewery District!

Signaling Columbus' intention of becoming The #1 destination city in Middle America for young, creative, energetic entrepreneurs, artists, musicians and families.

Building upon already finished projects in Columbus' urban core: Nationwide Arena (Home of the Columbus Blue Jacket's NHL team); Huntington Park (Home of the Columbus Clipper's baseball team); restaurants; pubs; theaters; museums; music venues and numerous new downtown lofts, condo's and other lively living spaces, Columbus City Council, The Columbus Chamber of Commerce, Business Leaders, The Columbus Crew and Crew owner Anthony Precourt have agreed to do everything possible to move the Columbus Crew to the Brewery District. This "anchoring" of the Southern end of Downtown Columbus will create a vibrant Urban Core stretching from the South edge of The Ohio State University through Victorian Village, Italian Village, The Short North, The Arena District, The Capital Square, and finally into German Village and the Brewery District.

Columbus' own miracle mile of sidewalk cafe's pulsing with the rhythm of the Midwest and America's cutting edge musical talent, art galleries beckoning the curious to look deep into the soul of who we have been, are and might be, and venues where crowds gather to share common experience through the raw beauty of sport will draw millions of visitors to the Buckeye state.

Have I gotten your attention? I hope so. I wrote the above few fantasy imbued lines after reading a story, written only hours ago, that was published online in The Austin Chronicle. A story written by Nick Barbaro.

Here is an excerpt taken from the story. This is a resolution being prepared by Austin's Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole.

"WHEREAS, the City of Austin is the fastest growing city in the United States (US) according to Forbes Magazine and the largest city in the US without a professional sports team; and

WHEREAS, the Major League Soccer (MLS) organization is the highest professional soccer league in the US; and

WHEREAS, Austin's demographics are extremely favorable to the sport of soccer as its median age is far below that of peer cities and its rich diversity supports soccer's global image (needs work); and,

WHEREAS, Central Texas is a hotbed of young soccer talent from the youth club level to the amateur ranks. Since the establishment of the Austin Aztex, eight players have been drafted by MLS teams including three of the first 11 picks of the 2013 MLS Superdraft one of which was the MLS Rookie of the year; and,

WHEREAS, the MLS is currently in an expansion phase and as noted by MLS Commission Don Garber during the recent State of the League Address the City of Austin is being viewed as a potential expansion opportunity for the MLS; and

WHEREAS, Commissioner Garber also noted that the MLS has been successful with stadiums located in the urban core of their league cities and hopes to locate new facilities in the same manner; and

WHEREAS, a centrally located facility could take full advantage of public transit and other alternative forms of transportation; and,

WHEREAS, the City of Austin is committed to creating a vibrant urban core in downtown Austin that will be the heart of the community; NOW, THEREFORE,

That the City Council directs the City Manager to work with necessary stakeholders including Major League Soccer, the Aztex, neighborhood groups, the University of Texas, and identify other probable stakeholders to (1) identify the economic feasibility of a Major League Soccer franchise in Austin, and (2) identify potential sites that take into account the traffic impact and impact on surrounding neighborhoods."

The above resolution speaks openly about the type of city Austin is and wants to be going forward. Columbus is and wants to be the same type of city. The citizens of Columbus are dynamic, creative individuals.

Resilience resides within our dynamism. The Midwest is experiencing tough times, much like the majority of our great country. Yet, for those prescient few, there is opportunity locked within every moment of difficulty. Opportunity is waiting for a city like Columbus to grab hold with both hands and run towards a renaissance of vision, ideas, debate, action, growth and diversity.   

A downtown soccer stadium would be a small piece in the mosaic of growth and diversity which is Columbus. I wrote about the idea of a Brewery District stadium a few days ago.

That earlier piece talks about some of Columbus' history. A vibrant slice of Columbus' history. Those "slices" are what must be nurtured and added to.

Columbus is a town of possibility and reality. Unlocking the reality within the possibility is what separates the sublime from the ordinary. Columbus is not ordinary.

The photo above is of Mbombela Soccer Stadium in South Africa. I chose it because the sublime notion of possibility in my rambling head is of a Crew stadium with stands on all four sides rising as close to vertically as possible, creating the most intimate soccer venue in the world.   

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Do Over!

Hi, my name is Justin. I score goals. does anyone care?

As we humans age, if we pay attention and try really really hard to keep an open mind, we begin to understand that most of what we see in the world is not perceived as it truly exists, but instead as we want it to be.

When we are children we see things as they truly are. This is one of the reasons that children scream and yell when they don't get what they want.

"That's the worst Christmas present ever! I wanted a blue truck, not a stupid pair of socks."

As adults, the experiences of our youth create unique and subtle changes in our brain chemistry which affect perception. We don't want to feel disappointed and angry when mom gives us, at the age of 49, yet another pair of socks for Christmas. We tear the wrapping off, what is clearly long wool winter footwear, with abandon and exclaim "Cool, I needed a few more pairs! Thanks, mom."

In other words, we lie to ourselves. And...we believe the lie. (We wanted a gift certificate to Tommy's Pizza. Yummy!)

Experience has created that unique lens through which we see the snugly warm socks. I just did it right there. Now the socks are "snugly" warm. As we softly caress what will be the fiftieth pair of high-speed-machine-woven wool socks in our "snugly" warm sock drawer, part of us yearns for those flippin itchy monsters. Of course, we give mom a warm kiss on the cheek.

That kiss on the cheek is one of the good results which springs from our perception warping life experiences. There are many less favorable outcomes.

Picture soccer coaches and their interactions with players. Over the years I've noticed coaches at all levels of soccer trying to force players into styles of play or positions which don't fit the particular player. As a coach, I have been guilty of this very thing. The subconscious foundation for trying to fit square pegs into round holes and trapezoidal worlds into hexagonal universes is our experience warped lens of perception.

The finest coaches in the world today have embraced the fact that perception is not always reality. These coaches, and they are very few, come to the realization that the results which spring from the perception, decisions and skill of the PLAYER are the ONLY truly significant, trainable and coachable aspects within the game of soccer.

The player must be capable of effectively perceiving as many positive expected value options as possible, fluidly, throughout the game.

The player must decide, based on effectively perceiving positive expected value options, what action is going to have the greatest positive value in any given situation.

The player must be capable of performing whatever task/skill they choose, based on perception; and they must be capable of  fluidly adapting when their given choice no longer has a positive expected value.

Giving the ball away is virtually always a negative outcome. Understanding that player 'x' can effectively complete a 10 yard pass with 95% efficiency, but only completes a 20 yard pass with 50% efficiency is clearly important to where player 'x' plays on the field and how player 'x' and his teammates interact.

Because soccer is a team game played by 22 unique individuals on a 120 yard by 80 yard field, the perceptions, decisions, and actions of each player are of exponential importance.

In other words, working with players to become better at perceiving the true nature of each moment of the game, helping the player become adept at choosing the best option, and providing ample time for players to improve their skill set and physical capacity to perform said skills and tasks is the ultimate focus of any high quality coach.  

The coach who finds it difficult to abandon that "warped lens" gives off obvious and not so obvious signals as to their perception of the game, as opposed to being able to look at the game through the eyes of each player and helping that player, without the prejudice of individual perception, grasp the ever changing positives and negatives floating within the game. Take Robert Warzycha for example.

Mr. Warzycha was a quality player who brought to coaching a wealth of knowledge and experience. In some ways, though, coach Warzycha seemed to find it difficult to hide his personal perceptions.  

From early in his first year with The Crew, I noticed Warzycha's players trying to express how hard they were working in oddly demonstrative ways. Eddie Gaven, who seems almost genetically predisposed to spot runs into space that other players never do, began to find even more weak-side overlapping jaunts and defensive double-team opportunities. Forwards were running themselves ragged, as if they knew that if they didn't, they would be pulled from the game and possibly spend the next month on the bench.

A small but not insignificant part of Robert Warzycha's perception of his players and the game seemed to be one of, if you don't look like your working hard, well, then you must not be working hard. Coach Warzycha's players, seen through my own "snugly" warm wool sock clouded lens, quickly picked up on their coaches perception and began overdoing it.

I would venture a guess that Warzycha's past experiences, maybe with youth coaches or when playing for the Polish national team, ingrained in him the idea that he had to "look" like he was working hard. It wasn't enough to "actually" be fit, attentive, skillful and industrious. Robert Warzycha, the player, and Robert Warzycha, the coach, needed to feel and see the stress and strain that high level soccer entails.

And that brings us to, Justin Meram. Justin Meram has spent the last three years trying to be a left mid. If you have watched him out wide, working eighteen to eighteen, you've seen a player out of place. When Robert Warzycha watched Justin Meram up top, the coach perceived Meram to be lacking in work ethic. In short, Warzycha's perception was that Justin Meram, the forward, simply didn't "look" like he was putting in the effort.

It's a shame if that is the reason Justin Meram only garnered a handful of first team opportunities in an advanced role, while playing for coach Warzycha. It's a shame; because, Justin Meram has been a scorer, a rather prolific scorer, everywhere he's played...except Columbus.

The Meram I've watched over the years has struggled with the larger spaces in midfield. He has certainly improved as a wide player, but his instincts and physical traits are much better suited to the crowded area around the other teams goal. Meram is a better passer when having to play under pressure and instinctively. He is, the few times I've seen him in a crowded eighteen with the ball, a very efficient finisher.

The unfortunately sad aspect of Meram's past three years of mostly wide midfield play is the erosion of some of that finishing ability. Meram is not built to run up and down the sideline, and then be able to wheel on a dime and deftly place a ball "snugly," like a warm pair of wool socks, into the back side netting. He is not heavy by any measure; but, he is also not short and machine like, nor lithe and Eddie Gaven like. When Justin Meram makes the run from eighteen to eighteen his body is clearly using gobs of energy. His taller, more muscular, build steals just enough oxygen during the longer runs that there is not enough left to allow Meram to do what he is so good at...finishing.

Maybe The Crew's new technical director will give Justin Meram a do over. If he does, maybe Gregg Berhalter will discover that The Crew already have the elusive second striker the team needs hiding out at left mid. Given time to re-acclimate, I believe Justin Meram could once again be the player who used to score in almost two thirds of the games in which he played.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Basic Preseason Crew Stats Thru 3

The Crew beat Philly on a late penalty goal converted by Federico Higuain (drawn by Ryan Finley).

Since the game was not streamed there isn’t much to comment on than basic stats as reported by Soccerway. So, with that, let's take a look at how the Crew are shaping up from a basic stats perspective. It can tell us a lot.

Teams, or the the organization setting up the event, have reported these figures (vs an official stat keeping firm) so take with grain of salt. NOTE: Because we have so few games here I have eliminated the penalty goal and the own goal from the record.

Here is how that breaks down:

After 3 games the Crew are leading their opponents in these major categories that I am able to get my hands on. In MLS there are correlations between winning and Shots on Target (SoT), Goal Conversion % (% goals from SoT) and Possession % (%POS). Of course three games is not enough to draw strong conclusions from but it is enough to say there are some good signs here.

Last year the the Crew struggled with shot conversion and ball possession. Both were main drivers in the team finishing 16th.

Perhaps just as informative as general team statistics are the number of minutes guys are playing. From this we can get a more clear picture of where players fall on the roster. I’ll break them up into groups by percentage of possible minutes played (3 games = 270 mins).


67% : Federico Higuain
67% : Wil Trapp
67% : Michael Parkhurst
61% : Bernardo Anor
56% : Chad Barson
56% : Jairo Arrieta
56% : Hector Jimenez
50% : Matt Lampson
50% : Steve Clark
50% : Waylon Francis
44% : Dominic Oduro
44% : Tyson Wahl
44% : Josh Williams

This group appears to be most of the 1st team so far. If you include new signing Giancarlo Gonzalez you get the Crew starting 11. On the right column of this site you see my projected regular starters. I’m keeping Viana over there as LB because my hunch is Berhalter will fall back to him.

This next group looks to be a mix of trialists and gameday 18 players. I will put another asterisk next to guys I think will be regulars in the 18

33% : Patrick Slogic (trialist)
33% : Ben Speas *
33% : Agustín Viana *
33% : Fifi Baiden *
33% : Justin Meram *
33% : Ben Sweat *
33% : Kevan George *
17% : Tony Tchani *
17% : Adam Bedell (trialist)
17% : Eric Gehrig *
17% : Ross Friedman
17% : Ryan Finley *

This final group looks to be the guys that will either be practice players or go to Dayton. Ross Friedman (above) probably in this group, along with the trialists the Crew are looking at.

9% : Ethan Finlay
0% : Brad Stuver
0% : Matt Wiet
0% : Aaron Schoenfeld
0% : Matt Walker
0% : Daniel Paladini (injured)
0% : Daniel Withrow


Federico Higuain has two goals (one from a free kick the other a penalty), Josh Williams has a laser shot, Arrieta has one and finally Adam Bedell got one from the lone assist so far in three games from Agustin Viana.

The Crew have two more preseason games which will take the team into opening day March 8th. I would be a little surprised if Gregg Berhalter and staff decide to use the next two for any other reason than tuning up the 1st team. If the Crew is not sure about a couple players by this point the start of the season could be a little bumpy.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Crew Sign Costa Rican International

Around midday Friday, Feb 21 the Columbus Crew announced the signing of Costa Rican Giancarlo Gonzalez.

Gonzalez joins the Crew from Vålerenga of the Norwegian top division Eliteserien where he started 20 of the 30 league games for them as a center back.

Perhaps the most impressive bit of info about Gonzalez is that he was also regular starting center back for Los Ticos during their World Cup qualifying campaign last cycle of which the finished 2nd only the the US in CONCACAF. All totaled he has made over 30 apps for the Costa Rican national team.

The Crew discovered him via Gregg Berhalter's playing days when the LA Galaxy played Alajuelense (Costa Rica) in CCL play.


He will be considered a critical 1st eleven player starting at center back and will play next to either Micheal Parkhurst or Josh Williams.

This signing will put Tyson Wahl back as a gameday 18 bench player and push Eric Gehrig and Kevan George back into more of reserve type roles as CBs. It also creates some competition at RB between Chad Barson and Josh Williams.

ESTIMATED WAGE : $200-300k

Transfer Market has him up there right behind Parkhurst, Higuain and Clark. It would not be surprising if he is making something similar to Glauber's wage last year.

On the more abstract side, Gonzalez also shows up in EA's FIFA 14 as a decent CB with a 66 rating and 74 potential. This puts him above average for a MLS defender.


Gonzalez is a known quality player in the North American region and the Crew have check off one of their priorities in the offseason. He makes the backline better and will add spice to the Crew during the World Cup this summer.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Preseason: Crew Down TFC, the Williams Goal

The Columbus Crew handled Toronto FC fairly easily yesterday in preseason action. It's hard to take a whole lot away from this match as the video feed from Orlando wasn't in very good form.

At the end of it all the Crew won 3:1. Gregg Berhalter has to be satisfied with what he saw as no goals have been scored on his side after two preseason matches (1:0 against Malmo and the one vs. TFC was an own goal).

Since fans only got about 30 mins of action from a 90 min match for this one, let's just take a look at the vitals...

With the first half lineup it looks like the Crew are taking a good look at Patrick Slogic and Francis out at left back. It was interesting to see Tyson Wahl at that CB spot instead of Josh Williams.

If Berhalter wanted to see what Williams had going forward, he got it in that great goal. I don't think he was looking at Wahl as a CB (Wahl was the culprit in the own goal).

Federico Higuain scored the other goal in the first half with a free kick. The guy is quality and the Crew have wasted him last year and a half. Hoping that changes.

In the second half we saw a more patchwork group. It sounds like Adam Bedell did everything he could have in trying to earn a spot with the team, including a goal.


The Crew are still feeling the team out and working on fitness. It was a very nice bonus to handle Toronto FC as well as they did. Josh Williams' goal was one to remember. The touch and strike are good, but the fact that Michael Bradley was to his left as he shot and he beat Julio Cesar in goal was just great.

There's nothing really to criticize the Crew on thus far this offseason. Berhalter and co. seem to be feeling out the roster more than anything. Results in the first couple preseason games are a bonus.

Next up is a game on Saturday against the Philadelphia Union.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Magic of The Black and Gold

Columbus is a driving town. There is even an area near downtown that is nicknamed Driving Park. The area gets its name from the horse races, and then car races, which took place on an oval track in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century.

Driving Park, mostly unnoticeable due to freeway construction over the last sixty years, and some of the neighborhoods around it are currently experiencing the paleorenewification period common to medium and large cities throughout the United States. Paleorenewification is the slow and agonizing period of time when a tectonic like pressure builds within peoples of money and influence. The grinding together of--dissatisfaction with what one currently possesses and what one could possess--causes upheaval in the brain’s Gimme-Gimme-I-Want region. This region, present in each and every one of us, but severely overdeveloped in those sadly unsatisfied souls burdened with wads of cash and an as yet unrealized internal locus of identity, is closely aligned with the pre-frontal cortex and its ability to imagine worlds filled full of candy bars, jelly beans, hip restaurants, brick homes with quirky living spaces perfect for entertaining small groups of people searching for the elusive space in which to release some of the above mentioned overwhelming pressure, idyllic shrubbery and unicorns.

The fact that Columbus is a driving town (most of us drive from one suburb to another daily or from the suburbs to downtown and back like clockwork) only exacerbates the rumblings in the Gimme-Gimme-I-Want region. We long for the day when we are able to eat at Bondaluna’s Italian Waif Cafe, attend our neighbors’ gossipee gossiper parties and stock the fridge with dainty delicacies without so much as pushing the unlock button on our vehicle’s key-fob.

Neighborhoods like Driving Park, historically African American and much like, in regards to their proximity to downtown Columbus, German Village, Italian Village, Victorian Village and the Short North, provide an opportunity for those with the needed resources to create exclusive communities filled full with the promise of those mythical Unicorns.

My mom, who has taught for forty years in the Columbus Public Schools, has told me stories about nights out on the east side of Columbus listening to some of the best blues and jazz artists in the country. The touring musicians played at what would be considered black clubs. My mother, white as snow, worked with many black teachers. Apparently, she was considered to be “cool” (I don’t see it, but I guess that’s the typical son’s perspective), and in the 1970’s she was invited along on at least a few occasions to some of the underground clubs where the great musicians played.

Listening to my mom talk about the music and atmosphere, I sensed a real note of excitement, and maybe even wonder. I can’t help but compare her palpable memories to the handful of times I have been lucky enough to sit and listen to a great musician in a room the size of an extra large kitchen. One such time was in Las Vegas in the 90’s.

Prior to leaving for Vegas, I was looking online for things to do while my wife and I spent a few days on the strip. A place called The Sand Dollar Lounge popped up while searching. The Sand Dollar Lounge was described as “off-strip in a non-descript shopping center, and a little rough looking.” If the rest of the description had not gone on to paint a picture of a place where “bikers to business men enjoy a night of blues music by some of the best musicians in Vegas” I would have dismissed the place entirely; but, it said it was safe, and it said the Blues was top notch. I’m a blues fan. I love blues guitar with a bit of a rock edge. Stevie Ray Vaughan is/was legendary. We simply had to go.

So, on a Monday night we jumped in the rental car (driving theme again) and went in search of The Sand Dollar Blues Lounge. The description I read online was perfect. So perfect that when we pulled into the parking lot we didn’t realize we were in the right place. Big empty lot, tiny sign on the side of large building and mostly dark, the joint was not the most inviting place. If vampires and werewolves were to build a trap for human prey, this would probably be the trap. When we finally spotted the sign we instantly looked at each other with not a little trepidation. We may have even discussed the idea of not going in...we did go in though, and to this day I consider the music I heard that night to have been the best night of music I have ever experienced in person.

A lot of the night is a blur. Eight or nine beers will do that, even when your only thirty some years old. I don’t remember the name of the artist fronting the house musicians. I do remember he was young. According to the bartender he was twenty one and already the father of more than one child, and he had supposedly already written a number of hits that other artists had recorded.

We sat almost close enough to touch this guy. I’m not gay, but I do believe I would have married the dude if he had asked. He wailed for hours. You could tell the musicians behind him were as much in awe as I was. They smiled from ear to ear all night and into the morning hours. From Stevie Ray to Buddy Guy, he made the guitar moan and roar. There is nothing like being that close when magic is happening.

So, I’m close to a theme here, and it’s driving. Or, maybe it’s driving and not driving. Maybe it’s the Gimme-Gimme-I-Wants and the unintended magic that can evolve from that recently evolved pre-frontal cortex. I think it’s all those things.

Columbus, Ohio, a place I’ve never been super comfortable living in, yet have spent almost my entire fifty years of life in, has done some things well. One of the things Columbus has done well is care for its less fortunate. Good thing too, as sometimes, like when Columbus demolished and paved over what used to be a good portion of the African American neighborhood, Driving Park, Columbus displaced a lot of people.

Another thing Columbus has done well is revitalize the areas around downtown. I’m amazed when I drive the areas north and south of downtown. Condos, refurbished homes, restaurants, bars and small parks have come to life. Within these communities is a little bit of magic. Sometimes the magic is stifled by the human need to seek safety in overbearing order and rule of law. Sometimes the magic springs to life. There are some fine local musician and artist who call Columbus home and show their stuff in the areas surrounding downtown.

One thing I know for certain, there is a great deal more magic waiting to spring to life in Columbus, Ohio.

Greater Columbus is no longer a town of a few hundred thousand people. I would venture a guess that today there are a few hundred thousand people in the Columbus area who, when following sport, are only mildly interested in Ohio State Athletics. Quite a few are simply not interested at all. Bringing the Columbus Blue Jackets to life was a welcome addition to the sports and entertainment landscape in Columbus. It was only a small step, as the cost of attendance effectively makes the Blue Jackets experience somewhat exclusive. Building a ballpark for the Columbus Clippers tilted the playing field a bit more in favor of the average sports fan.

There is still something missing. Some magic drives around greater Columbus, and perhaps hunkers down in the central city, waiting to be brought to life. Tens of thousands of soccer fans reside in Columbus, Ohio. There are more and more each year, as evidenced by the number of bars that routinely put soccer games on their TV’s on Saturday’s and Sunday’s. This summer, during a World Cup year, it will be close to impossible to find a pub not showing games.

We have our own soccer games here in Columbus. Columbus Crew Stadium and the Columbus Crew, like the Jackets, have been a good addition to the Columbus sports and entertainment scene. Yet, have the Black and Gold and the sport of soccer fully sprung to life and added all they can to Columbus? I don’t think so, not even close.

The something missing I mentioned, that bit of magic that’s driving around and hunkering down, is inside the soul of soccer and the tens of thousands in the great city of Columbus who love the sport. And here is where two parts of Columbus should collide. What many have sought during the paleorenewification period is partially embedded within our Crew.

A mindful glance at soccer stadiums in cities such as Seattle, Portland, Houston, Philadelphia and soon New York City and Miami should show the people who can help make Columbus an even more vibrant place to live what a soccer a stadium in downtown Columbus would do to unlock a little bit more of the magic potential hiding in our Driving Parks, German Villages, and Brewery Districts.

As a lifelong resident of Columbus, my hope is that the right people see through their own bias and realize the dynamic spirit a Brewery District/Downtown Soccer Stadium would unlock in the capital city. Maybe, just maybe, the ghosts of past residents, residents who have been displaced over the years in neighborhoods like Driving Park, German Village, Victorian Village and The Brewery District will throw an ectoplasmic party when the people’s game, the beautiful game, soccer brings thousands of current Columbuscites to the streets, restaurants and pubs which now occupy what used to be old raceways, breweries, and buggy making shops. I can almost hear the blues coming from the basement of a long ago club on the near east side. I know my mom’s smiling.

Photo is of the type of car which won the world's first ever 24hour race. You guessed it, the race was staged at Columbus' at Driving Park in 1905. The Car was a Pope-Toledo.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

MLS Carryover Minutes (early, East)

One of the things MLS observers have noticed over the past 2-3 years is that just bringing back players from the previous season correlates with some success. Makes sense in a league that is structured in such a way as Major League Soccer where oftentimes a player a team wants to keep has to be dismissed because of roster rules.

About once a week during the offseason I'll pull down the rosters of MLS teams. I use a combination of what teams have on their official league site and the folks that like to update wikipedia. It's loose but the best we have right now.

Most MLS teams will be cutting their rosters down to size by the end of day tomorrow, so lets take an early look at who will look a lot like they did last year. I'll use round numbers since it is very fluid right now.

90% : SKC
85% : MTL
85% : NER
80% : PHI
80% : HOU

75% : CHI
70% : CLB
70% : NY
60% : TFC
55% : DCU

It's pretty clear that MLS teams must have gotten the memo on keeping a squad together. Last couple years 60% retention would have been top 5.

With that, something else I'm tracking is sides that are returning MLS minutes and not just minutes with the same team. I value MLS minutes because each league (especially a physical one like MLS) has their own quarks. Want to make the playoffs in an ever expanding league? Find players experienced in the league.

95% : DCU
95% : SKC
90% : CHI
85% : NER
85% : PHI

85% : MTL
85% : HOU
80% : TFC
80% : CLB
75% : NY

Total league mins means 33660. That's 34 matches x 90 mins x 11 positions.

DC used just about every mechanism possible to bring in experienced league players to go from last to first. I'll be keeping an eye on my hometown team for that, if nothing else. They are sort of a Frankenstein team that, if they do well, will be mimicked for the next five years.

As for the others, I like what KC, New England, Chicago, Montreal and Houston are doing as far as putting themselves in a position to succeed.

NY depends on how interested Henry is. I know he signed a TV deal to commentate during the World Cup. So there's that. Toronto is banking on talent but reminder: it's a World Cup year. Even if they are in the race their star players will be preoccupied.


MLS teams, at least in the East, that are bringing back this many players means the quality might actually be slightly better... were it not for the World Cup.

Then, of course, next year is more league expansion. One day we'll get there.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

2014, Major League Soccer's Opening Day in Columbus, Ohio

By: Vidda "JibJab" Grubin

The sun is shining for the first time in eight days. Despite the warmth the sun provides, the air is somewhat chilly; but, it’s March of 2014, Ohio has just returned from its winter vacation in Northern Canada. The cold is to be expected, and mostly goes unnoticed.

While striding contentedly around the large yellow metal stadium you overhear this conversation while standing in an ocean of asphalt near a gathering of mostly white dudes, a slim pair of jeans worth of Columbus hens and a sprinkling of black gentleman dressed in black and gold shirts, each holding a red or blue plastic cup in one hand, and a hot dog smothered in ketchup and mustard in the other. Some of the “dudes” are absently watching a small child with a soccer ball at his feet dart between a silver Honda Civic and a beige Ford Explorer:

“I think we maximized our player personnel choices given the cap restrictions.”

“That's right, Mr. Martini. There is an Easter Bunny.”

“No need to be sarcastic.”

“Get out of my way son, you're usin' my oxygen.”

“Funny. I know the league bends the rules sometimes, and it’s really confusing at times, but I think the Crew can be relevant in Major League Soccer. Does that make me nuts?”

“What do you think you are, for Chrissake, crazy or somethin'? Well you're not! You're not! You're no crazier than the average asshole out walkin' around on the streets and that's it.”

“I know I’m not crazy. We’re a small market team with a moderately wealthy owner. Plus, we are America’s hardest working team, and I bleed Black and Gold. Go Crew!”

“But I tried, didn't I? Goddamnit, at least I did that.”

“Why are you so mad?”

“I'm not getting upset, Nurse Pilbow. I just don't want anyone to slip me salt peter!”

“Take a chill pill, doofuss.”

“If Mr. McMurphy doesn't want to take his medication orally, I'm sure we can arrange that he can have it some other way. But I don't think that he would like it.”

Quotes liberally lifted from one of the greatest movies of all time, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Movie based on the book of the same name by, Ken Kesey. Photo from said movie.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Gee, I wish we had one of them doomsday machines.

   Major League Soccer (MLS) has experienced many growing pains in its eighteen years of being a professional league in North America. Some of these pains have been good and some have left fans of the Beautiful Game to scratch their collective heads. Growing up and maturing are a part of any entity that wants to be sustainable. The thing to remember is that these terms do not always coincide with each other.

   MLS has grown up before our very eyes. The thing that it has not done is matured at the same pace. The Commish, Don Garber, wants MLS so desperately to be accepted as an equal among the worlds top-flight football leagues. What "The Don" and the majority of MLS team owners fail to realize is that you cannot pigeonhole what is truly the worlds game into what works for an American audience. At some point, he will have to realize that for soccer to truly grow and mature in America, he will have to embrace what has been proven to work for the rest of the world.

   Since its inception, MLS has tried to shoehorn soccer in America into the same mold that the other major professional sports leagues in America are in. This simply cannot work. The NFL, NBA, MLB are not truly "global" brands in the way that the BPL, Budesliga, Serie A, etc. are. And, neither is MLS. They seem to have a smug superiority complex in thinking that they know what is best for soccer in the United States.

   What they fail to realize, in the digital age in which we live, is that supporters of the Beautiful Game know how it works everywhere else on the third rock from the sun. Why are they so loathe to embrace ideas that have been proven to work elsewhere? Is it because they didn't come up with the idea themselves? Why the arrogance?

   Granted, they are making strides... well, more like baby steps. The potential of MLS to be perceived as a global brand is slowly, almost glacially, starting to progress. The biggest indicator of that is the fact that the New York Yankees (MLB) and Manchester City (BPL) together paid the $100 million MLS expansion fee to field the New York City Football Club (NYCFC) and join the party. This can only portend good things for MLS, if "The Don" and company pay attention.

   The new owners are not used to losing. They have a history of spending money to field the best team possible. This is starkly at odds with the way MLS is set-up. The salary cap, designated players, etc., are things that we might see leaving the MLS in the not too distant future, due in large part to the influence of these new owners.

   One cannot forget the recent news of David Beckham exercising a provision in his MLS contract of buying an expansion club for $25 million in any market except New York City. He chose Miami as the sight for the new club. This could very well turn out to be a sage move on the part of Beckham, as it will capitalize on a very large football-mad Latino population.

   Between just these two entities, other clubs will soon come to realize that the "business as usual" model of doing soccer in America will not be sustainable moving forward. I anticipate a push will be made by the present owners who will see that the status quo will not hold them in good stead. Adapt or die will have to become their mantra.

   Another aspect of the "adapt or die" mantra that must change is the single-entity system that MLS currently operates under. This was a needed system when the league first came into existence, although it's time is now past. By staying within such a rigid system, MLS hinders itself severely from becoming the global brand that it so desperately craves to be.

   In this day and age, I ask the question of "why"? Why must international clubs negotiate player transfers with the MLS and not the individual clubs? What is the logical purpose of this? Why can't the Columbus Crew, for example, negotiate directly with a club such as the Budesliga's Bayer Leverkusen for a player? It makes no sense and stunts the growth of MLS.

   The same logic goes for the "Designated Player" tag. Why have that designation when all that really needs to be done is to increase the salary cap, if a salary cap is desired to be a part of MLS? The newer owners of MLS clubs have money and want to be competitive. They will find ways to make the present MLS rules work for them.

   NYCFC, set to begin play in 2015, recently announced that it would take at least four players on loan from on-loan from parent club Manchester City to help fill out their roster. Couple that with the three Designated Players that they will sign to the roster. This is a significant development in that MLS is allowing NYCFC to usurp the Allocation Order in order to field their team. This has fans of many of the other teams within the league up in arms. My thought is that the Allocation Order is another part of MLS that has to go away if they want to grow.

   Is this fair? In a word, no. But, I see it as the first crack in the MLS armor that will be exploited more openly moving forward. It may be painful to supporters at the present time, but it should pay dividends down the road, as it will open up clubs to be able to make moves out from under the heavy, plodding hand of "The Don" and MLS.

   There are many things that need to be changed within the structure of Major League Soccer. There are also aspects of the league that I like. This is merely the first shot across the bow that MLS will face as it moves from a sprightly upstart to a more mature league that has longevity.

   What are your thoughts on all of this? Is it good for the clubs? Is it good for the supporters?

"It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are" ~ e.e. cummings

Indy Eleven Preseason Update, Sporting KC

Indy Eleven faced off against a full MLS Cup winning strength side in Sporting KC in preseason play yesterday.

The scrimmage was scheduled for 105 (60+45') so both teams could run out a good number of players. KC fielded their first team which right now see's Eric Kronberg over former Crew GK Andy Gruenebaum (60th min sub).

Indy is still trying to fill up their roster and fielded a number of trialists who where not named. The asterisk* indicates an unnamed trialist.

Kristian Nicht
RB*, CB*, CB* Kyle Hyland
Pedro Mendes, Brad Ring, CM*, Walter Ramirez
Mike Ambersley (Don Smart 46’), FW*

Chris Wey, CB*, CB*, Baba Omosegbon
Don Smart, CM*, CM*, LM
FW*, FW*

The game was not streamed so lineups and goals will have to tell the story here. With that, after Indy scored 20 seconds after kickoff (unnamed trialist), KC's 1st team responded mercilessly by putting three goals past Nicht in the first 45 minutes.

It appears the team is still focused on finding key players for a starting roster and were not capable in taking on KC with a full side. Area of real need seems to be at center back.

It is notable that Indy did not concede in the last 45 against a KC team that featured Mechack Jerome, Lawrence Olum, Dom Dwyer, Jacob Peterson, Soony Sadd and Sal Zizzo. Those are some good players.


Indy played another MLS side just a couple days prior against Vancouver, where Pedro Mendes and Don Smart put a couple past a very unfinished 'Caps side in a 2:3 loss.

Full recaps and quotes can be found at Indy's site.

Next up, Indy takes the field Wednesday, Feb 12th vs. Portland Timbers (MLS) – Kino Sports Complex in Tucson, AZ – 8:00 pm ET / 6:00 pm MT. The game is not listed for streaming at the moment but stay tuned here if anything changes.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Crew Preseason Match 1, Malmo

Head Coach Gregg Berhalter got to see his first two weeks of training put to competitive action yesterday against Swedish Allsvenskan side Malmo FF.

Florida is a regular destination for Malmo during their winter preseason break as the Crew have faced them before. Cool fact about Malmo is that since the finished first last year they will be playing in 2014/15 UEFA Champions league.


Berhalter played a different eleven in each half with no subs in either. He seemed to balance the two sides out but going back over the match it appears the 2nd half side was the stronger one.

Not a whole lot as far as performance to comment on other than there are a few players that appear to be getting a chance to showcase in front of the coaches.

The first half saw the familiar to Crew fans 4-2-3-1 with somewhat predictable results when both Baiden and Trapp aren't venturing forward. Ryan Finley didn't have a whole lot to work with, especially with Higuain playing at preseason pace.

The newcomers were clustered on the left hand side in defense. Fifi Baiden played a holding role, Ben Sweat at left back and Patrick Slogic at Center Back.

Malmo was able to find space on that side in the early going but Sweat and Slogic held their own in defense. Sweat looked slightly more comfortable atop energetic legs. Baiden saw a good bit of the ball but there wasn't anything much to note from him past half field (not much from Trapp there either).

For the parts of the 2nd half the Crew played more of a 4-3-3 because of the high pressure that Meram, Oduro and Arrieta applied. It also looked that way in attack. The goal that came of it might have been a bit sloppy from a corner - but it this lineup deserved one.

The 2nd half group didn't have a experience gap outside of Ross Friedman getting to play as Right Back. If they had, Malmo would have scored because they seemed to be playing with a good deal of determination and intensity (even over that of the New England match a few days before).

Steve Clark played well... of note.


Exciting to see some of what Berhalter has been working on. He is playing a premium on figuring out his roster but selfishly I would have liked to see a full strength lineup after the team spent a half month of nothing but training.

As we have it, combining the 1st and 2nd half lineups sort of gives you your projected season opening lineup if you pull out that left deep side in the 1st 45 with the 2nd half group.

With Oduro playing on the right side we might see Jimenez as a 60th minute sub type and Arrieta over Finley.

There were a handful of outfield guys that were healthy scratches in Tony Tchani, Shawn Sloan, Ethan Finlay, Aaron Schoenfeld and Matt Walker. The feeling is here with these players is that the coaching staff knows what they have in them (good or bad).

Crew travel back to Columbus for the weekend before heading back down to Orlando to train and participate in the Disney Classic.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Crew Badge Submission for Massive City FFC

If you haven't heard, Justin Bell is working on a new Columbus Crew badge a day for the month of February 2014 over on his Massive City FFC site. I have a great deal of respect for what he is doing, it is not easy.

As part of Justin's campaign he has asked other folks to submit their ideas, so here is my first one.

The purpose of this is that of temporary nature and strictly made for black and white only. My idea for it would be for it only to be used for the next three years while the franchise found her identity under new ownership.

No "banana kit" or "canaries". It shall be black. Tell Adidas, tell the home side, tell Don Garber. Black until further notice. This not only gives time for the new group to figure things out but also pays respect to the legendary vision of Lamar Hunt and all the men and women who lead the way here in town.


Columbus, Ohio is obviously named after Christopher Columbus. Many know him as world traveler and famed European discoverer of America. Modern history is telling us that... well, it's complicated. That said, it doesn't really change the fact that the town I now live in is named for the guy.

This badge a modification of the flag Christoper Columbus sailed under. The icon of the cross has many, many different meanings over the centuries and placing it here in a modern sports badge will never work but I guess I don't really care.

Right now I'm more interested in meaning. Maybe later on, if I can muster up enough energy, I will whip up a non-offensive, social media acceptably crest that I think the Crew / MLS will do. That's more of a predictive exercise though, also... kinda not worth it.

Originality is what carries value here.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Gathering Crew Crest Thoughts, Affinity

An Affinity Diagram is a tool that is used to organize a lot of thoughts into their natural relationships. It's a project management tool, it simplifies feedback so you don't waste time on things that don't matter.

In a recent article over at Fox Sports new Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt made a few comments about the team and the team's badge. The badge has become somewhat of a big topic in Columbus in part because the Crew are one of only two teams to have not changed it but also because Precourt has talked about it so much he has had to clarify statements, clarifying statements.

Regardless. The Affinity Diagram process cares not.

The Fox Sports article was picked up by where they pulled out the badge comments. Because. They also posted up Precourts clarifying statements for good measure.

This brought in a good bit of comments, so I grabbed the first 57 and went to work (white collar via blue collar experience type work)...

First up is just the count of comments as broken up in to groups (chosen by me). I felt the categories representative.

Something that doesn't really lean either way on change, like: "MLS is changing!"

Critical / Against Change
I had to pull it out of a flat out don't change because this group didn't really say, more of: "you mean the investment manager that bought a pro team does not relate to the working class?"

Don't Change
This is where someone is okay with the current logo: "I agree. I love the uniqueness of the Crew logo."

Critical of Owner
This wasn't that unexpected because of the way MLSsoccer framed the article by putting in Precourts clarification. It shows some weakness and people like to attack that. Example: "Dude just say you want to change the crest. Enough said."

Change It
Self explanatory, "time for a cool new but tasteful look"

Critical / For Change
Critical of look but doesn't say change it, like: "It looks like a U10 kids logo and just feels semi-pro if you ask me."

Not Related
Some other comment like "go revs!"

Positive of Owner
"Reminds me of Robb Heineman here in KC.. I like it. The league more owners and guys running things like this."

This second chart shows the number of likes each one of the comments got. Negatives were included (dropping the number of likes). "Likes" have become a very powerful tool in business. Think about that each time you click on something. You just became useful data!


What this tells us is that if Precourt wants to minimize the fallout after he changes his "logo" he needs to work on the fans a bit. There seem to be more (or at the least, about the same) that are passionate about the current look.

It is a little surprising that people generally didn't mind the logo but you have to expect that after almost twenty years that would be the case.

Anyhow, the badge is getting a face lift, this much we know. The backlash after the change is what needs controlled. It can be. Trust the tools.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The 6th Helltown Beer Game of the Year

Every year I pick my favorite video game of the past twelve months or so and 'tis time for it once again. This feature has become sort of how I mark time here at Helltown.


Naughty Dog is a one of the handful of studios that seem to be doing it right and are on top of their game. Directors Bruce Straley, Neil Druckmann... Designer Jacob Minkoff... Artists Erick Pangilinan and Nate Wells... I want to list them all because of the impact this game had on me.

I've never finished a game and sat in amazement as all credits rolled, save for this one. A lot of times in games finishing it is more of a relief. An "alright, let's wrap this up already" type thing.

One of the great things about video games is that the good ones have a distinct feel that you can play around in. When done right, a game has a sort of fourth dimension over other mediums; gameplay. That, along with design, artwork, colors in Last of Us feel distinct and fresh even though the story of post apocalyptic earth his getting an extreme workout right now.

The main game dynamic is that of protecting something you perceive as not being able to protect itself. This isn't necessarily new but one that has never been mastered. In the case of Last of Us it is a little girl. You do, at different points in the experience play them both but you mainly control Joel.

Joel is a middle aged man who lost his daughter during the beginnings of the apocalypse (which, in this game is a fungus that overtakes the minds of humans making them crazy). Years and years after that, Joel ends up helping / taking cross country a girl named Ellie who is about his daughters age when she died.

The story choice to make the protagonist a 50-ish person is different and refreshing in that Joel is somewhat grumpy and showing that age. His history is hidden from Ellie. Joel hides it but it is an ever present plot point.

The video above has some of the hallmarks of a Naughty Dog game. Writing, story, artwork, animation... Oftentimes a story / cut scene spills over to the gameplay seamlessly in Last of Us and it never feels forced or out of place. You also are always aware of what is going on (in large AAA games the main story line can get lost, happens quite a bit).

Another game mechanic that worked extremely well was how dangerous the world around you felt. It is a rare game where you do not play a super man / godlike character. In Last of Us have to approach things with a plan or you will die. This tightened the survival, protection role you play to levels that sometimes had me turning off the game because of the intensity.

The ever present danger never really goes away but as you progress you can craft better tools to increase your chances in a fight or, at least, know when not to fight. Firing a weapon or getting tangled in a fist fight feels meaty, raw. Not mindless.

In this next video you'll get a really good feel for how the game plays. Much of it is like this. Again, the story is clear, objectives (get to the bridge) are simple and the environment is breathtaking.

Fair warning; this is a brutal scene in the game. It serves to show the impact of real actions not cartoonish ones that so often plague games.

The world in this game is alive and just about every character (friend or foe) is unique. None of what is happening above is mindless or out of place. Instead of 50 bad guys to worry about there are only a handful and they are just trying to survive as you are.

You'll again notice the banter between the two characters, this is not unusual as this is how the story is told and how you become invested in what is happening.

It's hard to classify Last of Us a landmark game or some sort of crowning achievement in gaming. There are great games coming out almost monthly now but this one stands above the rest last year.


"In a world without gold, we might have been heroes!" - Edward 'Blackbeard' Thatch

Assassin's Creed IV is a fantastic game that had to grow on me a little bit but just like any good work of entertainment and art, it did. There is so much worthwhile to do in this game it's nuts. It's also beautiful and gives you plenty of reasons pause. Like, physically pause and watch the sunset drifting in the middle of the Caribbean.

Producer Martin Schelling and Mission Director Ashraf Ismail started this project back in 2011, which explains a lot by way of the incomplete nature of ACIII, which I about consider to be the greatest game that almost was. What melted my heart about ACIII was the time period, story and artwork. It's an amazing, amazing game but it was not a finished product.

Something else that hurt the previous installment in this series was the jumping between past and near future. Nothing horribly wrong with jumping back and forth but the jumps were too harsh and disconnected.

I can see why now knowing that the next installment was getting a ton of attention because there was a lot of the story that was going nowhere. Another reason for the attention is because the game was also released on the Xbox One, the version that I played (am still playing).

There are parts of the AC series that still exist that maybe shouldn't. The jumping back in for in time still there but the story in the present has lightened up. Another thing I despised was the game asking me to rate each mission when completed. I realize that crowd feedback can make games more fun but I don't elements that take away from the immersion. Immersion is one of the greatest qualities in games.

Maybe part of me wanted to give ACIII game of the year last year but I just couldn't and am now wanting to give the award to a finished work in the same series. That could be part of it I suppose but shouldn't take away from how fun this whole series is.


2013: Last of Us
2012: Sleeping Dogs
2011: Skyrim
2010: Red Dead Redemption / Heavy Rain
2009: Uncharted 2
2008: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare


Football Manager 14 is probably my runner up, if I did such a thing. Along with it being insanely fun (and near on mandatory for anyone who writes about soccer) above all, it is a gamer's game. In fact, it was good enough that I did a full review of it over at Massive Report.

Next up would have to be Splinter Cell Blacklist. This is personal pick for me because I have a great, fun history playing this game with friends. Blacklist was a true return to Chaos Theory. There were many points in the game where I just had a huge smile on my face. Any game that does that is a winner.

Tomb Raider had a semi-reboot this year and did very well. The game is very fun and very similar to the Uncharted series of games. If there was one game to recommend as a surprise game, it's Tomb Raider.

Last game to mention this year is the big one: Grand Theft Auto V. It's a blast to play and well done. This one just seemed a little too modern for me. Too cynical. Difficult to put my finger on it but after Rockstar games like Red Dead Redemption and even LA Noire, this one seemed spiteful, and too many times not fun.

As a technical achievement, the GTA V world is nearly second to none. It's got everything, you can do everything. LA looks spectacular. Separating out three playable characters into what is basically each one of GTA's demographics was ambitious, but they pulled it off pretty well.

Could be that somewhere in there is part of the problem though. Suffers a bit from a disjointed story. The game just wants to be everything. All at once. The other problem with the game is that I can't think of anyone that I would recommend it too.

Hoping that Rockstar leans towards something a little more interesting in the next few years.


All I got for now. Looking forward to a great gaming year in 2014. The great and mighty Mark McCracken sent me over a Ouya recently so looking forward to digging into that this year as well!