Friday, October 31, 2014

Playoffs, MLS Cup (pretty much)

It's been nearly a half decade since Crew fans have seen a postseason match. Even longer since they've tasted home field joy (no need to revisit the 2010 match). Crew host the New England Revs in the Conference Semifinals tomorrow (or today, November 1, 2014). I guess it gets pretty confusing trying to explain it. Either way. Show good at home and hold serve away to New England next weekend. That's the goal, pretty much.

Aggregate Score Playoffs with Away Goal Rule in Play

Home and away series begins tomorrow afternoon. It’s good to have a home. The Columbus Crew have the original soccer-only home in Major League Soccer. It’s good to have a home.
Home is where we feel comfortable, most of the time. At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to feel.

For sports teams, leaning the theoretical recliner back, cracking open a beverage and munching on some jalapeno and habanero infused chili dip is a recipe for disaster.

Successful teams, a grouping which the Black and Gold can rightfully place themselves within, enjoy a good night’s sleep, a morning meal with family or teammates and then they stroll purposefully into a familiar stadium.
Boots are clean. Uniforms hang in lockers. Routines are followed. Superstitions abided by.

Pregame walk-through precedes another visit to the locker room. The Sporting Director lays out the starting line-up and says a few words of encouragement. Back onto the pristine field for warm-up.
One last time into the friendly confines of the locker room. A moment of silence to remember why we play the game. For love and passion. For family and friends. And, finally, most importantly, to have a chance to play again. A chance to play the game we love once more.

There is no time for recliners. There is no time for comfort food. There is no time for comfort.
When the Black and Gold step onto the field and the whistle blows, home is where we prove we love the game more than our opponents. We want to play again. We always want to play again. The great, the passionate know…it’s about the game.

Whether alone with the ball, or together with just one other like-minded soul, the game is always on. In the street, in the yard, in the warehouse or the glorious stadium, the game, for the truly passionate is always on.
Play to win for one reason and one reason only…to play again. Comfort can eat caviar and watch for all I care. Comfort will not play again.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Subjective vs. Objective: Quality of Major League Soccer Teams Past, Present and Future

After reading Larry Johnson's latest post:

3 of 10 Least Expensive MLS Goal Scorers are Crew Players, A Discussion on Wages

Whimsical opinions of Major League Soccer's quality of play began merrily skipping upon fluffy-white clouds steadily circling my bulbous skull. To make matters worse, the whimsical opinions were joining hands. They were beginning to grin, a monstrous grin of pious surety. I was scared and happy all at the same time. 

That monstrous grin of pious surety was subjective opinion becoming objective reality in record time. As I said, I was very happy. My opinions, in regards to MLS Quality of play, were magically being validated as fact, apparently to stoke my fragile ego. I was also, as noted above, terrified at my bottomless need for feeling clever, smart, right about everything and dammit, ruler of the Metaverse!

Sorry. Got lost there for a moment.

I forced the fluffy-white clouds to dissipate. The whimsical opinions fell screaming to earth's unforgiving surface and splattered into unrecognizable goo. The blog-reading world was once again safe. But, I'm still going to write about the quality of Major League Soccer, and there may be some clever goo left. Fair warning.

As mentioned in my post a couple days ago:

Secret Formula: Columbus Crew Soccer Club 2015

There is a very good chance that fans of Major League Soccer will be treated to an unprecedented leap forward in the league's level of play. The question is: How can we measure, objectively, any positive change in level of play?

Let's start with a little history. MLS has been around for almost twenty years. When the league got its start in the 90's, the youth soccer explosion in the United States was, arguably, only ten to fifteen years in the making. Certainly there were pockets of soccer madness throughout the country prior to 1980: St. Louis, parts of New York City, Areas of the West Coast, South Florida, Etc. But the boom, that point where participation numbers began doubling every three or four years, began in the early 80's.

Most of the top players in Major League Soccer were either from one of the previously mentioned areas or overseas. The level of play was somewhat scattershot. Young American players were not being pushed by hundreds of thousands of other young players like they are today. 

Without doubt, there were very good players in MLS. Marco Etcheverry at DC United. Brad Friedel at Columbus Crew. Tab Ramos at NY. But it was the difference between players like those mentioned and the rest of the players in the league which often made for somewhat disjointed games. 

Arguably, the improvement seen in Major League Soccer's level of play over the last seventeen years is almost exclusively down to the improvement of the American born player. The young American born player has been competing against more and more players of better and better quality with each passing year. If this is true, why should there be anything more than simple incremental improvement going forward?! Major League Soccer is about to experience the effects of revenue unlike it has ever experienced in its history. This money, spent wisely, will fall to the players. The players is where it should go. 

Which brings us to MLS rosters. The thirty man roster of the past included at least 10 players who, on average, were never going to be consistent MLS contributors. Those ten players have been in the $26,000-$40,000 range. Of the middle ten players on an average MLS roster over the last 18 years, four or five would float in and out of on-field minutes. The other four or five played consistently week to week. The top ten players on the average MLS roster were, arguably, players who could play in any number of second tier leagues throughout the world. Of course the top two or three players on each team were often capable of playing in top leagues around the world, or already had played in such leagues.

In the last 3-5 years Major League Soccer has seen that incremental increase in the quality of the American born player become quite obvious. The objective proof is many faceted. A large number (and increasing) of Americans are signing with teams overseas as 14, 15, 16, and 17 year olds. More and more of the American born players currently in MLS are seriously looked at by squads in Europe. There are kids growing up today who would have been able to play in MLS fifteen years ago, but not today.

Today, meaning the 2015 season and beyond, money will keep many of the 14-17 year olds from signing overseas. More of the quality young American players already in MLS will choose to stay. Top those facts off with better quality foreign players choosing Major League Soccer over other leagues, and you have what clearly will be a leap forward in quality.

Some factors making all of this happen are often difficult quantify. How do you quantify the improvement of youth players due to shear number of kids playing? You kind of just know it's happening. Other factors are easy to quantify. Money is money. Soccer players around the world are looking for the best payday during their short-lived careers. 

While there may be fewer "careers" as the roster limits get reduced, clearly, the quality of the player occupying those roster spots is increasing. There may still be 4-5 players on each MLS roster who rarely see first team minutes, but those four or five are going to be better than the bottom ten of the past. Players 16-20 on MLS rosters are going to have choices. Pay them the money they want to stay in that role, or they will look to Europe or Mexico for more playing time and better pay. Players 6-15 on rosters will be able to play almost anywhere and players 1-5 will be really good.

Major League Soccer, objectively (and on those fluffy-white clouds), is about to join the ranks of the top leagues in the world. MLS will not be EPL or Bundesliga level, yet, but it's getting there, and the speed with which it's getting there is increasing. Only those who have a need to hold onto the opinions of the past: "MLS sucks. I can't watch it. The players are horrible." will miss-out on the excitement of watching something evolve.

While they will eventually jump on board, they are missing the real beauty. Watching something grow. There's nothing like it.

3 of 10 Least Expensive MLS Goal Scorers are Crew Players, A Discussion on Wages

Cost per Non-Penalty Goal (NPG)
$5,833 - Joao Plata RSL
$5,986 - Ethan Finlay CLB
$6,167 - Dom Dwyer SKC
$6,929 - Tesho Akindele FCD
$7,500 - Quincy Amarikwa CHI
$7,625 - Fabian Castillo FCD
$8,138 - Bernardo Anor CLB
$9,375 - Luke Mulholland RSL
$10,000 - Andres Romero MTL
$11,478 - Justin Meram CLB

$68,000 - League Median cost per NPG

There are a few discussions to be had with this. One is on the value side of things having a player out perform your their contract is both a blessing and a curse for GM's all over the globe. You also have Major League Soccer's famous single entity league structure that controls all contracts - verses an open market like MLB (quasi-open) or most of the rest of the soccer playing world (wide open).

As my time paying close attention to MLS has grown longer, the more discontented I become when it comes to things like this. It was reported recently that Ethan Finlay signed a new deal for, presumably, more money but haven't heard much from the rest of this group. Goal scoring is obviously not the only way to measure a players worth. Benardo Anor has been on my lists of underpaid players a couple times but still only makes $48k in yearly wage. Now, him showing up here, MLS will likely take him to the next pay tier / grade (probably in the 60-90 range).

Since MLS controls all the contracts the system isn't too different than something you have at your job. Do well and you get a bump the same as any other player in your position, as recommended by your boss.. uh, coach. I saw this recently with Justin Morrow had a great year in San Jose. He went from a low base starting wage to a little over $100k and saw it again with Josh Williams going from low to $125k last year. Incremental increases are a way to control cost. It works in the business place but in the world of sports (where you only have earning power for a short time) it kinda hoses the player.

Looking up and down the list of player wages certain patterns become clear. It's a pretty simple list, here's how I have it off the top of my head:

1. "Name Guys" - These days USMNT players because that team is hot, hot, hot! with millennials, but also foreign in English speaking or Anglo friendly leagues (Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Robbie Keane, Marco Di Vaio, Jermain Defoe)

1a. "Outstanding DP" - Usually foreign and a club legend where he came from, just not known here and are probably the better players in the league, some fitting MLS 'style' others not (Andreas Escobar, Federico Higuain, Diego Valeri)

2. "Good MLS Player Guy" - Big group. This is were guys that have played well for years (Graham Zusi, Chad Marshall, Kenny Miller, Mike Magee, Brad Evans, Steven Lenhart).

3. "Expected MLS Starter" - This is where you fall if you have been identified as able to compete at MLS level. Incidentally, they are the one's that hit the cap number most as far as volume of dudes. There are hits and misses in here (Bobby Convey, Andrew Driver, Agustin Viana, Josh Williams).

3a. "In the 18" - Better than college draft players or down roster guys, durable, athletic. Or maybe that free agent foreign player that as technical ability. (Baggio Husidic, Peguy Luyindula, Chad Barrett, Daniel Paladini, Logan Pause)

4. "The 20 to 30" - The rest fall into the 20-30 slots on a thirty man roster. You could call this purgatory, really. Mostly college drafts for USL pro level guys that MLS pick up and see if they fit the system or league. These guys are expected to be the filler. It's a tough spot to be and makes up a huge % of players in the league (Rich Balchan, Adam Jahn, Grand Ward, Aaron Kovar, Ross Friedman).

I guess, going through this mini exercise now, I see why I do pull down lists of guys over performing. The guys in that 20-30 purgatory / tumbler. It's always great to see a player make it out of that group. On the Crew we've seen Josh Williams do it and it sounds like Ethan Finlay will too. But this is MLS, so in order to get that next incremental raise they need to do even more for years (while being stuck on bad teams and no chance to shine in defunct reserve league) verses getting paid - like, now for your abilities and a chance to shine with good players.

Only so much money in the coffers, I guess. Just hope that one day the market determines how it is distributed to the the players that are earning it.

Final note: 5 / 10 guys at top of post are Hunt Sports Group pickups.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Secret Formula: Columbus Crew Soccer Club 2015

Too soon? Never!

The Columbus Crew have already kicked-off the 2015 season with Black and Gold Rebrand 1.0 (Hopefully there will not be a 1.1 or 2.0). We are now CCSC-Columbus Crew Soccer Club. The unveiling of the rebrand was only a couple of weeks ago, and another step in formulating CCSC 2015 and beyond was spotted this week. Large banners with the name of a potential stadium sponsor could be seen hanging from the stadium's south façade. Question of the day: What's a Mapfre?

If Crew owner Anthony Precourt is unabashedly redefining what Columbus Crew SC's branding/marketing will look like in 2015, then it only seems fair to take a look at what the Crew's roster will look like in 2015.'s the secret formula.

Current Roster (CR) minus Players Lost in December's Expansion Draft (PLED).

Subtract those players Gregg Berhalter and his staff will let go before the start of next season. Players Abandoned (PA).

50% chance that rumor about smaller MLS rosters in 2015 is true (25 roster slots).

100% chance that salary cap increases after collective bargaining in offseason (4.6 million total).

1000% chance that Columbus Crew add exactly three high priced players. (3)

1,000,000% chance that one or more of the above variables is FOS (FOS)

(CR-PLED)-PA=22    (22+3)/FOS=4.6 million

In order to simplify the incredibly complicated formula above, here's the list of players that will be protected in the expansion draft.

Frederico Higuain: Quality Argentine who can slot into new position when Crew add new players.
Ethan Finlay: Exciting young American player scoring goals and causing opposing teams to lose sleep.
Michael Parkhurst: Veteran defender. Solid building block in back.
Waylon Francis: Versatile outside left back.
Steve Clark: Goalkeeper. Fits Berhalters vision going forward.
Justin Meram: Goal scorer who, like Ethan Finlay, has another five or six years of quality left.
Bernardo Anor: Versatile, young, midfielder who can also play in back.
Tony Tchani: Center mid coming into his own. Another player with 5-6 good years left.
Hector Jimenez: Like Anor, can play multiple positions and has many years left.
Tyson Wahl: Proven center back. Becomes quality depth after roster additions in off-season.
Aaron Schoenfeld: Forward depth after off-season additions.

Second 11 kept after expansion draft (Some are homegrown players exempt from draft).

Will Trapp: Young Central Mid with still more to prove and improve.
Eric Gehrig: Good utility player.
Ben Speas: Central Mid depth and young.
Josh Williams: Hopes to return from injury and add depth at two or three positions.
Ben Swanson: Latest homegrown signing. Very young, but already training with first team.
Matt Walker: Young, unproven homegrown.
Matt Lampson: Back-up goalie with starting experience.
Adam Bedell: Towering forward who saw minutes early in 2014 season.
Kevan George: Sometime central back. Jury still out.
Chad Barson: Young, but with starters experience at marking back.
Kei Kamara: Veteran MLS'er. Could see 2015 minutes at two or three positions.

Three added, high quality, players who will command the lions share of the increase in salary cap space.
???: Forward who likes to combine with his teammates. 16+ goal scorer.
???: Center Mid capable of scoring 6-8 goals.
???: Young Center Back who meshes well with Parkhurst or Wahl.

Major League Soccer's probable switch to 25 man rosters is a good idea. This not only forces teams to start their own USL sides, but helps to put more emphasis on the academy teams. The Crew already have a good handle on promoting academy players. This should only improve.

I'm leaving Emanuel Pogatetz off my roster because he was a stop gap measure after the loss of Giancarlo Gonzalez. He is past his buy-by date and doesn't fit the Crew's personality. I am also leaving Romain Gall off the roster. Gall is a young player and the Crew have many young players in the academy system.

The bulk of the squad being proven players in their mid-twenties is rare in Major League Soccer. The veteran players around thirty, along with some promising young players and the 1000% chance that Anthony Precourt and Gregg Berhalter bring in three high quality players, drastically reduces the FOS factor. The FOS factor should fall from 1,000,000% to about 5000%.

2015's Columbus Crew Soccer Club should be even more exciting to watch than the 2014 version. If Major League Soccer gets the new salary cap right, and teams spend the new found money wisely, fans of MLS could very well see an unprecedented leap in the leagues quality of play.

Sadly, the WFK factor is racing neck and neck with the FOS factor. Only time will tell if the owners of Major League Soccer can stop the WFK/FOS race in its tracks. I believe they can, and will. I'm an optimist. How about you?   

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Crew Finish 3rd in East

Oct 26, 2014; Columbus, OH, USA; Columbus Crew midfielder Romain Gall (25) reacts during second half action versus the Philadelphia Union at Crew Stadium. The Crew won the match 2-1. Source Image: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Predictions: Crew (h) v Union

Final game of the season for both teams. A win or draw today and the Crew could finish as high as 7th on the overall MLS table, making it the best finish since 2010 (5th).

2010: 5th Place finish on overall table
2011: 9th
2012: 10th
2013: 16th
2014: 7-9th

CLB: Might rest a couple starters in Higuain and Parkhurst
PHI: 12th place finish, disappointing season


% Correct picking Crew games (last 10) Outlet
42% (6) BET365 ... COLUMBUS CREW
--% (-) WV HOOLIGAN ... (no pick)


*End of the road for this feature here at this site so a hardy Congratulations to Adam Jardy, beat writer for the Columbus Dispatch, for getting most of this year's Crew games correct (18 of 33). The two most important things any Crew fan should read every game week is Jardy's "Crew Notebook" and "How it might play out" in the game preview section of the paper. Which reminds me, subscribe to the newspaper. The physical one. When you read the paper you remove distractions. No links, no wormholes to fall into. Just a conversation between your thoughts and the writer. Try it (especially you, sports person). You might like it.

Friday, October 24, 2014

On the Road with Vidda "JibJab" Grubin

The open plains of Southern Illinois are rolling by outside the driver's side window. They're also rolling by the passenger side window, and under the tires of my Odyssey. (A Honda van, not the crumbling façade of my mind's thinly veiled, ill-chosen path through life).

The open plains, covered in soybeans, corn and wheat, are home to sudden miles of tall white sentries, whose hair spins in the ever present Midwestern breeze. If I don't fall asleep at the wheel while writing this (I'm multitasking. I'm possibly the only writer to ever compose an in-depth analysis of a professional soccer team's style of play while simultaneously navigating the coma-inducing middle of America at 70mph).

Okay, so I'm sitting in McDonalds trying to win a million bucks one Big Mac at a time. But, I am in the heartland and there are many miles, 240,000 to be exact, on the odometer. Travelling the tournament poker circuit in North America is a mysterious fantasy, achingly lonely and eye-opening.

The poker (Mostly cash-game play. Play made-up of staring at total strangers across a couple feet of felt) is not going well of late. Folding winners after the turn, and not getting paid off when value betting the nuts, makes losing hands the primary focus of one's bankroll graph. Unlike the plains, the graph representing money spent versus money earned looks like a downward sloping mountain side.

So, naturally, I've decided to write about the Columbus Crew.

One nice side benefit of playing cards in casinos from Columbus to Las Vegas, and everywhere in between, is the ability to watch almost any sporting event known to man. Simply ask the floor manager to put a certain channel on, and there's the Columbus Crew, beating the NY Red Bull's to every lose ball.

The Black and Gold's maturation in 2014 has been as exciting as it has been surprising. The clues that Gregg Berhalter knows what he's doing were there for all to see during preseason. (Well, for those few who follow the American soccer scene closely. A more ubiquitous presence in the unencumbered media MUST be a priority for Major League Soccer going forward)

In a matter of two or three weeks, Greg Berhalter transformed the stagnant, clearly dissatisfied, roster of Columbus Crew players into a team of creative souls unleashed. While early positive results were followed by a long string of frustrating ties and losses, the trained eye could see the players wanted what their coach was serving on a daily basis.

The spark of excitement displayed on the field never waned. Gregg Berhalter stuck with his core players game after game. Young players meshed with veteran players.

Berhalter wanted his squad to pressure up the field. He wanted his defenders to do their job, with or without cover from the midfield. The midfield was being asked to read the game as they saw it happening in real time. There was/is more freedom of choice being offered by the manager. But, and this is a doozy, Gregg Berhalter has managed to convince his players that with each inch of freedom and creative license comes another inch of personal accountability, for not only self but team.

This is a key difference between the mindset of the players assembled each Saturday in Crew Stadium in 2014 and that of the same players the last 2-3 years. The idea of responsibility and accountability took a front seat to creativity's spot in the trunk of the Odyssey the past couple of years.

Over reliance on stressing responsibility narrows focus. Narrow focus is easily exploitable on a soccer field. The Columbus Crew's focus had narrowed to such a pinpoint between 2010 and 2013 that opposing coaches had little to worry about when it came to preparing their team to play the boys in gold.

The Crew's expanded focus has not only made them more successful, it has created a team that is truly fun to watch. From the chances taken on the back line, moving the ball on the ground through the goalkeeper and central backs, to the overlapping runs of the outside backs and the immediate pressure applied by the mids and forwards when the ball is lost, the Columbus Crew Soccer Club has brought joy, and a love for the game, back to Hudson Street.

Watching the quick interplay in the opposing teams end of the field is inspiring. Seeing players like Tony Tchani, Justin Meram and Ethan Finlay find their voice on the field is what the game is all about.

Bottom Line, Gregg Berhalter gets... IT. IT'S... the players and the combination of equal parts freedom, creativity, inspiration, responsibility and accountability. We as fans have been the big winners this year. Regardless of the outcome of this year's playoffs, we all know, hell, we all feel, the magic of the game is back in Columbus. May it never leave.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

All US Born MLS Team, 2014

Wrapping up my year end player ratings (right hand side of this site, web version), so here is my All US Born MLS Team of 2014.

Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy) - Hawthorne, California
Clint Dempsey (Seattle) - Nacogdoches, Texas

Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy) - Ontario, California
Davy Arnaud (DC United) - Nederland, Texas
Lee Nguyen (New England) - Richardson, Texas
Perry Kitchen (DC United) - Indianapolis, Indiana

A.J. DeLaGarza (LA Galaxy) - Bryans Road, Maryland
Bobby Boswell (DC United)  - Austin, Texas
Chad Marshall (Seattle) - Riverside, California
Dan Gargan (LA Galaxy) - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Steve Clark (Columbus) - Mason, Michigan

Nat Borchers (Salt Lake) - Tucson, Arizona
Matt Hedges (Dallas) - Rochester, New York
Bill Hamid (DC United) - Annandale, Virginia
Nick DeLeon (DC United) - Phoenix, Arizona
Lamar Neagle (Seattle) - Tacoma, Washington
Ned Grabavoy (Salt Lake) - Joliet, Illinois
Eddie Johnson (DC United) - Daytona Beach, Florida

There's plenty to nit-pick on in regards to what constitutes a US player but I tried to keep it simple with this list. Meaning: If you were brought into this world on US soil, you qualify. The older I get, the more that sort of thing starts to carry weight (meaning: your mama brung ya within US borders). Not saying that players that are born outside the country can't be part of the USMNT... just keeping it simple, I guess. Realize the world is shrinking, global community and all that. I guess, also, I can't figure the FIFA rules on what it means to be American.

Texas and California lead the pack. Most of these guys might not check the "marketable to the millennial generation" that MLS lives and dies with, but these are the guys that have dominated the 2014 MLS season - according to me, anyway.


Nick DeLeon's father, Leroy DeLeon, was a Trinidad and Tobago striker as well as one of the "old" NASL guys. He made a stop with the Washington Diplomats in the late 70s. His son, Nick, plays for what's basically the modern version of the Dips. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Valeri, Non-MVP

Diego Valeri won't be on anyone's MLS MVP shortlist this year but I'm here to say that what he's done in the last couple years in this league is pretty remarkable. 21 goals and 27 assists. No much need list out where it falls in terms of MLS history. It's up there.

His Portland team could be eliminated from MLS Cup contention this weekend, which is a damn shame. He's better than that disjointed mess up (and out there) in Oregon. Valeri. The 2014 non-MVP, MVP.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Unbelievable Finlay

Source image Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Ethan Finlay added another goal and two assists tonight against NY, which brings his total up to 11 goals and 6 assists (...7, if you go by MLS stat tracking, secondary assists!). It's a the kind of individual season that has me stuck trying to process. I just got done writing about it a couple days ago and he goes and as a day like today. The guy behind him isn't doing to bad either. Sheesh.

Henry on Trapp after Crew Win

"Today they were better than us, there's nothing you can do. Wil Trapp was outstanding today. I know Higuain usually get all [the attention] and the striker scored two goals, Finlay wasn't bad either, but Wil Trapp is the key of that team and today was, given the tempo of that team, bring the ball out from the back. Higuain doesn't have to drop and get the ball. He will get it in good position because Wil Trapp does his job, he brings the ball out for them. Difficult to stop, he has for him a good future, he's American, you guys should be happy. Today, I thought he was the difference."


Listen to the full interview HERE.

Predictions: NY v Crew (A)

Red Bull NY host Columbus today. These two have punched their ticket for the MLS Cup already but a win by one of the other means they could host the 4th v 5th 'wildcard' game. 3:00 PM start.

No notes this week.


% Correct picking Crew games (last 10) Outlet 
44% (6) BET365 ... NY RED BULLS
--% (-) WV HOOLIGAN ... (no pick)

No thoughts this week.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Anor, 2014

May 17, 2014; Portland, OR, USA; Columbus Crew midfielder Bernardo Anor (7) goes up for a corner kick and land on Portland Timbers forward Frederic Piquionne (9) along with Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri (8), midfielder Jack Jewsbury (13) and forward Gaston Fernandez (10) during the second half of the game at Providence Park. The game ended in a 3-3 draw. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Garber Frustrated

Don Garber, MLS Commissioner (and CEO of Soccer United Marketing) decided to take Jurgen Klinsmann's recent comments about MLS and a couple of her high profile players to the streets yesterday afternoon.

"It's frustrating as hell," said Garber.

Those four words tell all of us that work in the professional world that the fight was over as soon as this press conference was called. The fact that Garber and his close circle did not - and cannot - see that, is the larger issue here. Klinsmann's mildly critical comments are secondary.

Most of Garber's frustration here is self inflicted. It started somewhere around the beginning of last year when he came out with the proclamation about becoming a top league in a decade's time -- and culminating yesterday with this shockingly immature and unprofessional overreaction to criticism.

Aiming high isn't an issue until you start cutting out everyone and anyone writing critically of what's going on and believing your own hype.

Soccer has had a foothold in the US as long as I've been alive and looking through history, well... it's always had a big place here. It's only recently that we have "sports industrialists" trying to make mountains of money off it while trying to control the market.

“He needs to think very, very hard about how he manages himself publicly and how he motivates players playing in our league," Garber said towards the end of his press conference. 
“I am demanding that he refrain from making comments which are critical of our players and damaging to our league.”

It's crystal clear that the head of MLS isn't happy. All things considered, he probably shouldn't be - as he has worked pretty hard over the last ten years to get this league to where it's at. But the public showmanship is not necessary, smacks of desperation and insults lovers of the game. Adding to the insult is "the Don" himself. By tying himself to MLS this much makes it seem as if pulling for the Columbus Crew is the same as pulling for the 'fightin' Don Garbers'.

He certainly has the right to bring this up at the next USSF board meeting but has absolutely no right to demand anything from anybody but his MLS staff. He also has no right turning a league I've grown up with into a complete and utter joke.

Klinsmann's comments were the opposite of damaging. They are only the very beginning of what Garber needs to hear.

Here's to hoping more adult voices will be guiding MLS in the future.

Monday, October 13, 2014

MLS Goal and Assist Leaders (with Salaries), Finlay and Meram

Below is a look at MLS leaders is Non-Penalty Goals + Assists per game for players with at least 900 minutes this year. I've also included Salary on the far right to give you an idea of how much goal and assist getting players earn (it's a lot).

NPG+A per Game - Name (Team) $ Salary

1.17  :  Robbie Keane (LA) $4,500,000
0.97  :  Clint Dempsey (SEA) $6,695,189
0.93  :  Obafemi Martins (SEA) $1,753,333
0.92  :  Landon Donovan (LA) $4,583,333
0.88  :  Fabian Espindola (DC) $150,000
0.86  :  Maximiliano Urruti (PDX) $200,000
0.86  :  Fanendo Adi (PDX) $593,300
0.84  :  Thierry Henry (NY) $4,350,000
0.82  :  Diego Valeri (PDX) $500,000
0.82  :  Joao Plata (RSL) $70,000
0.79  :  Bradley Wright-Phillips (NY) $372,500
0.77  :  Luis Silva (DC) $134,440
0.74  :  Lamar Neagle (SEA) $110,000
0.73  :  Gyasi Zardes (LA) $198,000

0.72  :  Ethan Finlay (CREW) $65,847

0.72  :  Blas Pérez (DAL) $359,250
0.71  :  Chris Wondolowski (SJ) $650,000

0.70  :  Justin Meram (CREW) $91,827

0.70  :  Álvaro Saborío (RSL) $453,333
0.66  :  Marco Di Vaio (MTL) $2,600,000
0.64  :  Chris Rolfe (DC) $225,000
0.64  :  Kenny Cooper (SEA) $265,625
0.62  :  Javier Morales (RSL) $300,000
0.62  :  Brad Davis (HOU) $392,062
0.61  :  Luke Mulholland (RSL) $56,250
0.61  :  Gilberto (TOR) $1,205,000

Adam Jardy mentioned today that the Crew are working on Ethan Finlay's next deal and from the sound of things it's going pretty well for the player. As it should be, he is out performing his contract based on this metric alone. Meram, same.

In the list above I've included all players with over 0.60 NPG+A per game. It's league best type levels. I've found that it's also a level were players might start showing up on larger club radars.

One final note: Luke Mulholland. I called him out as a player to watch years ago when he was topping my USL Pro player ratings (which I hope to get to again this year). Pretty proud of that.

Can't overstate what Finlay and Meram have done this year in this category. Special season for both these players especially when you take into account their age and nationality in comparison to the rest of the stars on this list.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Podcast: Red Cards in Helltown - Episode XVII

Host Rick Gethin and analyst Larry Johnson return this week to walk through as much as they can in one hour. As always, show is recorded in one take - because we like it that way.

• European Qualifiers, large field of teams
• Up and down popularity of National Teams
• Landon Donovan's last USMNT game
• Promotion and Relegation, Jurgen Klinsmann comments
• All pro sports are growing

• Lots of thoughts on the Crew Rebrand
• Crew comeback vs Philly
• Light attendance in Philly, 5 yrs no playoffs
• Josh Wolff praise for Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram finishing
• Kei Kamara signing
• Showing improvement, consistency

• Two spots left in the East
• What Houston has to do to get back in it
• Michael Bradley's reputation now with poor TFC season
• Real quick look at west

• LA2 / Chivas USA Vincent Tan

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Predictions, Preview: PHI v CLB (a)

7:00 PM Eastern. Columbus Crew SC away to Philadelphia Union.

CLB: Starters Higuain, Francis are suspended today (card accumulation)
CLB: Higuain has 8 of Columbus' 19 away goals, 42% is 3 most in MLS
PHI: Crew can effectively end their season tonight

Percentage on left is year accuracy picking Crew games only.

--% WV HOOLIGAN ... (no pick)

**Check out Nate Beckman's predictions and thoughts over at his regular weekly column [MR].

This one is like a blank canvas of which these two teams will paint. With Federico Higuain and Waylon Francis out the Crew will be forced to modify their normally consistent lineup by at least two on top of the switching back and forth we've seen of late with Hector Jimenez and Eric Gehrig at right fullback.

On the Union side comes a team that is on the down side of a coaching change high. After getting 12 pts from five games a month ago, the team has not managed a win in the last four (all of them against Eastern Conference teams). In some ways, Philly is in the same place the Crew were late last year.

Without Higuain holding the middle of the field together, I expect this one to play loose. It's a wonderful opportunity for Ben Speas (if he is the replacement) to showcase himself in a tough, intense environment.

Philly likes the quick counter and Le Toux likes to drift wide. Tony Tchani and Wil Trapp will be the guys for the Crew to watch. They will be busy and if they are not in full form, the Crew will drop three tonight unless coach Berhalter tells Jimenez and Anor (or whomever plays the outside fullback roles) to stay home. Tyson Wahl, Bernardo Anor, Justin Meram will also factor in to this one as their road performances have been up and down.

Weather: Rain midday but stop by game time. The natural surface will be wet and the temps down in the mid 50s. Great soccer weather!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Athletic Club of Columbus

"At the Athletic Club of Columbus, our members are the boss. We are member-owned, committee driven, and Board-approved."

The quote above is from a very real place in downtown Columbus. Founded in 1912, the Club was "interested in promoting both social and athletic endeavors." Notable members over the years have been Warren G. Harding, 29th President of the United States (born in Blooming Grove, Ohio), William Saxbe, U.S. Senator and U.S. Attorney General 1974-1975 (Mechanicsburg, Ohio) and even Dave Thomas, Founder of Wendy's.

In recent years, it's seen visitors like Randy Travis, Harry Connick Jr, Joe Lieberman, Chelsea Clinton (of whom I have a good story, ask me about it one day), and even Katie Couric.

yellow dot
I took a nice walking trip with my ladyfriend downtown last weekend to get a good look at the painted yellow circle that, according to social media, was on the corner of High and Broad. It was a beautiful day for a walk and indeed there was a painted yellow dot with the text #NEWCREW below it right in the middle of the intersection. Markedly much less impressive in the afternoon daylight, but it was there. Right smack dab in the middle of the only part of downtown that feels like a downtown to me.

As we made our short trek to it I started to wonder what part, if any, the town of Columbus had on this yellow dot. What caused the change. Why it's being done. Why bother? I composed short answers in my head but nothing really stuck.

"Maybe, it's just because I'm not from here," was my conclusion to my conclusions as I approached the yellow dot of paint. A thought that's quickly chased away however, as I have been here, living in downtown Columbus, for what's going on eight years. Some might say that's a decade already.

Once I got to the dot I tried to snap a pic or two of it while crossing the street but that was about all I could muster up. I thought it'd be something more interesting and answer my questions, but it didn't. Of course it didn't.

Part of the reason for my tepid response to actually seeing the dot was due to the fact that I had just passed The 100 year old Athletic Club of Columbus building on my way. It's something I've heard about but never really put any thought into. Turns out this little journey to see a pro sports team's ad promotion got me thinking on it, doing a little bit of research and coming to other, unexpected conclusions.

The one that overrides the rest is that; were this another country, The "Columbus Soccer Club" would have originated in such a place as The Athletic Club of Columbus. Because sports clubs, in the rest of the world, belong mostly to the township, village or city (similar to the NFL's Green Bay Packers). The people. Her badge is that of the town, the steel factory that supported the team or what the town is known for. Perhaps it would be called The Athletic Soccer Club of Columbus, were it here.


The Athletic Club of Columbus... wonder if they are looking to get a soccer team going.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Massive City FFC: A Brief Ranking of Rebranded MLS team Crests

"Columbus, Ohio has been the most important city for American soccer, and the Columbus Crew have been the most reliable pillar for Major League Soccer, since 1994. The league does not exist in its current form without Columbus. The league, most likely, does not exist at all without Columbus. These are truths, whether MLS 2.0 through 2.9 and the television networks acknowledge the essential importance of the Black & Gold, or not." - Justin Bell, Massive City FFC

With a Columbus Crew rebrand on the horizon earlier in the year Steve Abreu, Gabe Schultz and myself joined Massive City FFC in running over the 18 rebrands in Major League Soccer of the 20 years it has existed. We take some time to write down our thoughts on each and every one. Some good, some bad, plus a few that probably should have never seen the light of day (including an old Colorado logo that looks like a Cub Scouts badge you might earn for playing soccer while camping in a tipi on a whitewater rafting trip).

Crew rebrand is Oct 8th. Just a couple days away. There are a lot of roads that have been traveled and many we hope the Crew avoid. While you're waiting head on over and give it a read. The opening by Justin Bell, especially, is very much worth your time.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Crew Loss Highlights MLS Scheduling

The loss last night on the road in New England certainly doesn't spell doom for the previously red hot Columbus Crew but it does have me peeling back a couple layers and asking a couple questions.

First big one is how on earth did this Crew team get on a historically good run (modern)? Berhalter? New excitement? Players believing in themselves? Guys just taking quantum leaps in development? #NEWCREW?!

Turns out it's probably due to wonky MLS scheduling. A closer look the team's record poor run in the middle of the season was due to the fact that the Crew didn't have a run of games at home and are now (or just finished) a fairly unprecedented set of home matches.

This chart below shows how many home games the team had in the previous four weeks. Farther up the chart - the more home games during the previous month, down - less.

The red dots indicate when the Crew were playing more games on the road over a couple month's period. The first dot (left) happened towards the end of the 2010 season. Everybody remembers the end of that year as the Crew - after having a great year, suddenly went winless in six, shut out three times.

That team ended up playing on the road to Colorado and lose while the head coach sat his best player in the first half. The reasoning at the time was because of a poor run of results leading up, well, turns out the schedule was harsh and the coaching staff were not tuned to it. Mistakes all around.

The dot on the right shows this year's Berhalter team playing slightly more on the road and never stringing more (3) at home in a four week time. That tough run put the Crew in a historically bad place on a few metrics (10 and 20 game results, goal difference) but they came out of it well over the last two months, when the schedule pointed back to Columbus.

Where this leaves the Crew is with a brutal three game road trip right at the most critical time of the year. Yes, you have to play the games in front of you but the unbalanced way Major League Soccer handles it's schedule is frustrating as it seems more interested in smoke and mirrors than actual competition.

In the case of the 2010 Crew you see the results of a tough, unbalanced road/home schedule. The team crashed and burned spectacularly to the point where the team was blown up in the offseason. Even this past year you had fans and league watchers wondering if Gregg Berhalter was the guy after they went on a one win in previous 16. A different owner might have sacked the coach there, even.

Last night's result is a normal road final. Isolated, it's not that big a deal but because the time of year and with two more weeks in a row away from home ramps up the possibility of a drop in standings which could have a catastrophic impact on the post season MLS Cup.

In a league that institutes rules and bi-laws upon bi-laws to keep things as even as possible, scheduling needs to be fair and free of any hint of late season engineering.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Predictions, Thoughts; Revs v Crew (A)

Crew face Revolution today in the final battle of only remaining original Major League Soccer logos. New England Patriots Gillette Stadium today. 7:30 PM start.

CLB: Nobody in the East has positive goal difference in last six Away
CLB: Familiar lineup expected
CLB: Only 2 road clean sheets
NER: Looking to solidify home playoff advantage

Percentage on left is picking Crew games only (last ten).

43% (5) BET365 ... NEW ENGLAND REVS
37% (2) GOAL.COM ... DRAW
--% (-) WV HOOLIGAN ... (no pick)

Revs overwhelming favorites today as the Crew will do their best to play the part of not getting the three game road run off to a bad start. The clear goal here for both teams is to avoid the play-in wildcard game. Although, finishing 4th is actually a pretty good place to be from a financial standpoint as you get a guaranteed bonus home match. Either way, avoiding that 5th place finish should be paramount. Of course, losing and falling out of the MLS Cup would be bad as well. (This whole thing, ugh.)

Turf always plays a role for road teams at Gillette, especially when there are lines all over the pitch (as I expect there to be today), for teams that like to hang on to the ball as the Crew does. Bounces are different, distances are harder to judge, and sliding tackles are virtually eliminated. A completely different game, really.

Ohh, checking on the weather... looks like 60, and damp. Probably raining during the match. One of those Autumn rains I hope, which is like a drizzle. I wouldn't mind if the cameras wondered out of the stadium and walked amongst the trees for two hours. I'm sure the colors are really fantastic up there right now. I was up in Manchester, NH around this time a couple years ago, just beautiful.

Trees should be hitting their midseason form right now.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Crew NPG+A Leaders

Here's a look at Crew Non-Penalty Goals + Assists (NPG+A) per 90 minutes played since 2008. If you want an interactive version to click around on, head over HERE.

Not terribly much to say there about this straight forward metric. Scoring. Assisting. Minutes played. Goals create memories for most fans and memorable players float to the top of this measurement. Easy to see that the more you play the less of the scoring and assisting you do per 90 minutes. It's hard! Which is why the guys that can do it get paid.

The game is certainly moving on from merely searching for players that top this metric, but this scoring and assisting thing... it likes to stick around. I make picture.