Thursday, February 26, 2015

Qatar: Dystopian Nightmare

From the Mirriam-Webster Dictionary, Dystopia: an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives

If Qatar were simply an imaginary tale, written to warn of the evils inherent in totalitarian, religious, monarchies, discussions regarding the crushingly-harsh realities of contesting a World Cup in November and December would be great water-cooler fodder.    

A-Qatar Total Population: 1.8 Million (Wikipedia)
1.     278,000 Qatari citizens
2.     1.5 Million “expatriates/migrant workers”

At an average of just over 50,000 seats per stadium, and a final tally of 8-9 stadiums, Qatar 2022 will have 400,000-450,000 stadium seats available. This represents 1.5 stadium seats per citizen of Qatar.

B-964 Deaths amongst the Nepalese, Indian and Bangladeshi migrant workers living in Qatar during the years 2012-2013 (DLA Piper report)

For comparison sake, here are the workforce statistics for the United States:

Amnesty International’s update on migrant worker rights in Qatar:

Excellent reporting on the working conditions in Qatar:  

For a look at the DLA Piper report:

From the Library of Congress’ Law Library, links pertaining to Qatar:

And, of course, Wikipedia:

But, by all means, let’s talk about the horrible inconvenience of a World Cup in November and December.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


Not exactly sure how losing on purpose got associated with the word "Tanking," but it is and most people understand it when it's used in a sports context. Thinking back through all my years of US sports watching, I seem to remember it always being sort of around. Maybe more of a wink and a nod, but it was there - but it was also rare.

"Back in the old days" it was seen as a shameful act, that tanking. The thought of going into a competition to purposefully lose was once seen as a commandment brought down from Mount Sinai by Moses himself. THOU SHALT NOT LAY PURPOSEFULLY UNDER THE FEET OF THINE ENEMY, it says. Well, almost says.

There is a biblical connection to not losing on purpose that permeates U.S. sporting culture that is sold, repackaged, sold and sold and sold again. In the US it comes in the form of the Great Underdog. And who was one of the first and most famous of all underdogs? Why it was David and his victory over Goliath.

I consider the "never say die, always try your hardest" approach one of the greatest attributes of the United States sporting culture. No matter the odds, no matter the opponent, Americans always believe they can win. It's brought us things like The Miracle on Ice, 1982-83 NC State, Gene Hackman, Rocky and (some might say) saving the day in WWII.

What of this approach now though?

Out in Tennessee a few days ago two high school girls basketball teams played a scheduled match in which they both tried to lose in order to avoid a superior opponent in an upcoming tournament, and thus extend their season. What ended up happening was down right biblical. Reports out of the district have girls time killing, missing shots on purpose and even one side trying to score on themselves. Unconfirmed reports say that after the game there the match there were rivers turning to blood and many locusts.

It's more than fitting (and I kid you not) that one of schools is from Smyrna. A place likely named after biblical city that is mentioned in the Book of Revelations.

In a story from The Tennessean today, fired up columnist David Plazas felt robbed of a potential match up that faced the winner:
"It’s that David-and-Goliath moment when you can test your mettle even if your rival is bigger and better armed than you."
The punishment for the two schools was severe. Each school ended up getting fined (in high school?) as well as kicked out of the tournament all together. I can't get over that. Applying a fine to a high school for trying to gain an advantage in a system they didn't create reminds me of one of my favorite Charles Frazier lines from Cold Mountain;
"Every piece of this is man's bullshit. They call this war "a cloud over the land" but they made the weather and then they stand in the rain and say "Shit, it's rainin'!"


Last place wins
Great rewards await anyone who tries their hardest. No question. But in the realm of athletic competition in this country, where the spoils of losing at our highest levels greatly benefit and reward failure, it's hardly surprising that we see teams at the high school level mimic pro teams like the Philadelphia 76ers or (dare we say) Columbus Blue Jackets.

Tanking in the major sports in the US is rewarded via high draft picks and extra money usually (in the case of MLS, not making the playoffs gets you just about as much as making it). Player movement in domestic sport is so restrictive that sometimes tanking has become a necessity.

As close as a few years ago, you would rarely hear of fans and columnists and even analysts openly approving of teams tanking it. There's been a shift in that approach recently though. Complete shift. So much so that we see "star" players dropping out of season all together towards the end to help get a jump on the next year (Kyrie Irving last couple years before LeBron and I'll put Kobe in that mix this year, moving surgery up). I know plenty Cleveland Browns' fans that regularly route for losing after the first few games so they can get better picks.

Tanking-It is now seen as a prudent competitive approach. "Gamesmanship," is what some are calling it. It's hard to disagree with it, really. But herein lies the issue. Teams breaking one of the commandments of sports is merely a bi-product of the ridiculousness of league set ups. Losing is rewarded, so why not lose.

There are those out there, like Plazas, that will always condemn the idea of losing on purpose but never quite understand why they think that way. Which is unfortunate.

Effort in the face of long odds use to be what we structured our leagues around in the US. Now the scales have tipped way too far in favor of not even trying. What we are left with is rewarding people trying to gain at failure instead of actually punishing poor performance. It's all mixed up.


Sixers are still in it!!
Not doing well in your conference? Well you still within striking distance in your division, right? No? What about taking down that regional rival?  Hmmm. US leagues are bloated. So many teams but only one winner. The remedy for that is breaking it up into smaller groups so that you (FAN) don't ever really feel that far away from winning SOMETHING, but if you are too far away from even any of that? Tank it and reap the rewards of failure.

Actual competition in this country has gotten so convoluted, it's hard to tell that most of it is a charade to keep you tuned in. We have gotten so far away from actual, honest competition that we think have a four team playoff is a "fair" way to determine a National Champion when most of the 100 + D1 schools haven't, don't and probably never will, play each other.

The competitive models in our major leagues need to be re-examined, re-thought and re-booted. Otherwise we are forever doomed to watching half the teams in any league engage in a rat race to the bottom - celebrating them all along the way while wondering what the hell happened to the American Way.

Monday, February 23, 2015

FIFA 15's Completely Sensible Season Simulation

Each year around this time I like to sit down for a few minutes and run through a simulation or two of EA's wildly popular FIFA franchise. Before I get to the sim though, let's take a minute to pull up what a 'wildly popular' video game looks like.

"FIFA" sold 13.3 million units in 2014 (Xbox, Playstation). A version of the game was number one last year in the UK, France and Germany out of all games made on any platform. While Madden's NFL and 2k Sports NBA franchises still out sell FIFA four to one in the US, the soccer franchise still manages a very healthy 1.7 million units here (13% of the worldwide total). The highest ranked version of the game last year was 48th (Xbox 360).

Speaking of the global stage; FIFA outsold the Madden franchise by almost 8 million copies on major consoles (13.3 to 5.4 million - Xbox and Playstation). No real surprises there to most of us. Soccer's appeal is global and the game reflects that with leagues spanning most of the planet and Madden looking only at a few markets in the US.

$670 million USD is roughly what EA's FIFA franchise pulled in last year alone. That figure puts it right around Interstellar and How to Train Your Dragon 2 for 11th on the worldwide MOVIE grosses.

Reminder: FIFA, along with many other sports video game franchises, is a yearly release.

Needless to say, it's getting something right. Perhaps more than just having updated rosters, team logos, leagues, uniforms and stadiums... it does get, at least to some degree, individual player abilities down accurately. It has to. Fans playing the game are using their favorite team. A deal breaker would be players behaving incorrectly.

I've been with the franchise off and on over the course of its twenty year history, with a growing physical collection of games dating back to the first. Since 2009, the games have been a regular fall kick off event for me. Usually dying off sometime around Thanksgiving but picking back up right around now - when MLS rosters start to take shape.

EA stays with that shape (for the most part) these days, even with MLS, throughout the offseason. Not perfect by any means but they nail the high level summary of things, all the way down to the player level.

Back in 2012 I did my own set of simulations and came away with the game correctly prediction 8 of the 10 playoff teams and only missing on three teams more than 2 spots in their conference rank. The game also, somewhat remarkably, told me that Justin Meram would be a top scorer (just took him an extra year to get there, which I blame on Warzycha).

In 2013, I got 3 out of the 5 eastern playoff teams (tho, only getting 3 teams more than a couple spots off) - and the same again in 2014. Both years over thinking it and not using plain old and reliable FIFA.

This year SIX conference teams make it in the Playoffs. Since that's pretty much what teams play for, here's who FIFA has making it in:

IN (pts)
Toronto FC (60)
Philadelphia Union (56)
NY Red Bulls (49)
Columbus Crew SC (46)

New York City FC (not available yet)
Orlando City SC (not available yet)

Impact Montreal (44)
DC United (34)
New England Revolution (31)
Chicago Fire (31)

Woah, Philly. Not sure about that one. I might replace them with New England but otherwise this looks about right. I don't see how Toronto can miss this year. Even if they don't hit this year, they will next. It's inevitable and unfortunate.

Leading scorers were Álvaro Saborío, Clint Dempsey and Federico Higuain(!).

Here is how the rest of Crew SC looked on the goal front:

Goals - NAME (assists)
16 - HIGUAIN (4)
8 - FINLAY (2)
7 - TCHANI (1)
5 - MERAM (7)
4 - GALL (1)
3 - KAMARA* (2)
2 - BEDELL (0)
2 - FRANCIS (2)
1 - TRAPP (1)
1 - SPEAS (0)
1 - POGATETZ (0)
0 - SWANSON (1)
0 - SAEID (1)

*I simulated a couple times, Kamara plays off and on due to injury.

Anyhow, that's what FIFA says. Off to check out what's going on with Football Manager.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

11 Years of Kamara

Kamara was born and raised in Kenema, Sierra Leone's third largest city, and began his career playing for Kallon F.C. from 2001-2003. At age 16, Kamara and his family migrated to the United States through a refugee program.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Simple Question...


Would the individual owners within Major League Soccer be subject to financial penalty, payable to the remaining MLS owners, if one or more decided to defect, start their own league or join another league?

That's it, just that, no more, nothing else, just curious.

Thanks for any replies.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Crew SC Behind Curve After ATX Pro Challenge, Player Evals

After a messy first half against FC Dallas in the semifinal match, Crew SC rounded off this mini-event with a so-so affair with the Austin Aztex. Not a whole lot to dig into yet regarding the Crew SC preseason other than the excitement / energy / newness of last year is gone. Gregg Berhalter has some work ahead of him. They are a little behind where they were last year at this time.

With that. It's only two preseason games. Not big on grading players but I feel like it's fair enough to evaluate a player on a performance based on whether or not they met expectations based on their role with the team and expected talent level.

A "1" given for a player exceeding what I expected, "0" meeting it and a "-1" falling short.

Name... FC Dallas , Austin Aztex = Final

Did well in Austin:

Hernan Grana... 1 , 0 = 1
Waylon Francis... 1 , 0 = 1
Tony Tchani... 1 , 0 = 1
Ethan Finlay... 1 , 0 = 1
Kristinn Steindorsson... 1 , 0 = 1
Chad Barson... 0 , 1 = 1
Justin Meram... 0 , 1 = 1
Mohammed Saeid... 0 , 1 = 1
Brad Stuver... 1 , DNP = 1

Met Expectations:

Federico Higuain... 0 , 0 = 0
Kei Kamara... 0 , 0 = 0
Tyson Wahl... 0 , 0 = 0
Kalen Ryden... 0 , 0 = 0
Ben Speas... 0 , 0 = 0
Matt Lampson... DNP , 0 = 0
Ben Swanson... DNP , 0 = 0
Wil Trapp... DNP , 0 = 0
Adam Bedell... DNP , 0 = 0
Michael Parkhust... 0 , DNP = 0
Romain Gall... 0 , DNP = 0
Sergio Campbell... DNP , 0 = 0

Fell Below Expectations:

Steve Clark... -1 , 0 = -1
Hector Jimenez... -1 , 0 = -1
Kevan George... -1 , DNP = -1
Aaron Schoenfeld... -1 , DNP = -1
Emanuel Pogatetz... -1 , DNP = -1
Chris Klute... -1 , -1 = -2

Hernan Grana

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Major League Soccer Does Not Have a Salary Cap!

Major League Jabba and His Minion, Don Garberhut

Oodles of respect to Mr. Johnson. His insightful graphs, and numbers driven breakdown of MLS, point to ONE thing, over and over.

Major League Soccer is single-entity in name only.

Owners are free to sign and pay, or not sign, gargantuan sums to a select few players of their choosing.

Averaged salary players, who earn a tiny fraction of what the behemothly contracted edifices fill their eighteen jet Jacuzzi tubs with, regularly outperform the monster signings. Subsequent years rarely see the best performers in Major League Soccer re-signed at the aforementioned gargantuan sums.

And, with each word typed, letters, commas, hyphens and periods edge closer to revolting against their use in such a windmill-tilting effort. Yet, if there were not so many windmills dotting the organizational structure of Major League Soccer, there would so much less to tilt toward.

Long live the millions of people, in these United States, who love the greatest sport on earth. They have fallen in love, not with professionals players and their monied bosses, they have fallen in love with the sport itself.  Millions more will follow.

Stop the insulting games. These fingers have written too many posts chronicling the past usefulness of controlling costs in order to nurture the professional version of our sport in the United States. The usefulness of such draconian controls has passed.

Long live soccer! Long live the people's game!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Perry Kitchen, USMNT

After four years and over 11k minutes in MLS (just about most in that time), 23 year old Perry Kitchen got his first national team cap in a 2-0 win over Panama.

Kitchen is one of those players that you wish could find a stable team with a great coach. Instead he's been with DC United. I think he's got a great future if he can work his way out of the muck that can be MLS - and - work past a somewhat more marketable Wil Trapp.

There are some things you inherit when you are born a Hoosier. One is probably something related to basketball. Another is work and granite and Breaking Away. Last one is... (I forget the last one, wait... now I remember. Hint: MLS hasn't bothered with a 2014 season summary on his profile page).

It wasn't those things that got Kitchen noticed last year though, he popped up on Jurgen Klinsmann's radar because of his 5 goals and 4 assists in a deep midfielder role.

He looked pretty good against Panama at home, while Trapp (his competition for the next few years) looked out of sorts playing away in Chile. I've gotten familiar with both over the past couple years and if I had to pick right now, I'd go with Kitchen. And I like Trapp.

Both of them need to get thinking beyond MLS.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

New MLS Jersey Designs Tumble Out

I've been travelling this weekend but, from what I can tell, the first group of leaked MLS jerseys ironically came from a seminar on using social media at the league's own national sales center.

From there it appears the veil of secrecy sort of disappeared. A savvy internet user found an online merchant that had jumped the gun and not long after I noticed that a league run account (of which, there are many) started alerting fans to a mistake.

Considering that the jerseys were leaked by the league during a social media training session, I'm going to go ahead and say there isn't any misdirection or plan here by the league to try and make lemonade.

Adidas is the only kit provider for MLS teams via an exclusive deal that they re-upped back in 2010 for eight (8) more agonizing years, worth about $25 million per year (which works out to be $1.25m per team).

Here locally Crew SC is planning on having a reveal event at The Bluestone right of the street from me here in early March. I'm sure Anthony Precourt and the bunch over there are bummed that this happened but, well, it's MLS. Still go to the event if you were planning on it. There are some pictures of a 2nd black kit but (via @MassiveScoop), if memory serves, there is suppose to 3rd kit hanging out there that hasn't been released.


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

MLS Wage Charts (2010-14)

Still messing around with team wages between the years 2010-14 that spin off the research I did for my post over at Massive Report. So, here is a few more charts and graphs to share. Top one is my favorite (box and whisker). I have it sorted by YE 2014 salaries.

• LA looks pretty
• New England' is interesting due to the Jermaine Jones signing
• Expansion teams are missing a year or two
• The filled in items show a trend down

You should be able to interact with the next couple a little. Not a whole lot here to sink your teeth into, but does well at painting a quick and informative picture of what's going on in regards to salaries.

Tobin Heath

 RFK Stadium, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Sunday, February 1, 2015

MR Post: Wage Spend and Accomplishments

A post that started out as just trying to figure out what the Crew SC budget might be this year turned into a much bigger one about all spending in MLS. In it I try to tackle what an accomplishment in MLS actually is and (indirectly) how much it might cost to get there.

It was sort of built around a simple chart and didn't focus on the costs of winning trophies, which is where I wanted it to go. But it was turning into an essay and not a blog post. I touched on it though. Here it is again - average yearly salary it takes to win things in MLS - with some of the other values:

7,206,209 : Supporters' Shield Winner
6,000,435 : Supporters' Shield Runner up

3,619,256 : MLS Cup Winner
3,235,449 : MLS Cup Runner up

3,098,664 : Lamar Hunt US Open Cup Winner
4,216,233 : US Open Cup Runner up

That last one for USOC is driven by Seattle winning it three times in last five years and five different teams on the losing side.

Lastly, the most important one, really. How much it takes to win any of the above: $4,794,413. I've got the 2015 Crew SC budget around the $3.9mm level right now.

Anyhow, head on over to Massive Report to check it out.