Monday, March 30, 2015

Higuaín Off

Federico Higuaín comes from one of the far from you lands of soccer. It's a place most here in North America don't get. A place where soccer oozes from every pore, lives within every word that is spoken and moves about in every waking moment. Higuain was sent of last weekend after slamming the ball with is fist in frustration after a questionable foul. I was okay with it before it happened.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Refreshing Saeid Halftime Interview

It's pretty hard these days to find Soccer between all the soda pop ticket four packs and papa's pizza brought-to-you-by's during MLS broadcasts of late. The clouds parted a bit yesterday though as there was a short and simple exchange between player (Crew SC midfielder Mohammed Saeid) and reporter (Ashleigh Ignelzi) right as the first half ended.


ASHLEIGH IGNELZI: Well Mohammed, New York Red Bulls really playing compact, just your thoughts on the first half so far.

MOHAMMED SAEID: I don't think we are keeping the ball enough. We're just going for transition. We've got to keep the ball a little bit better because every time they win the ball they are making us run so we gotta keep the ball better.

ASHLEIGH IGNELZI: Kei Kamara with a great opportunity, Higuain missed a great opportunity as well; How do you break through in the second half?

MOHAMMED SAEID: I mean, as long as we break through their first press then it's kind of open on the wings so we're just trying to get that first press down and then on the wings, get crosses and score.

ASHLEIGH IGNELZI: Alright, Mohammed Saeid. Thanks. Guys.


Here in Columbus we almost always get a well spoken US college player. The Ethan Finlay or Eric Gehrig types. Which is fine but the interview usually revolves around things like hustle, battling or "finding the right pass."

Mohammed Saeid is described as a Swedish footballer of Eritrean origin with a West Bromwich Albion youth career. The now 24 year old had spent the last 5 years playing with BK Forward and Orebro SK in Sweden before Gregg Berhalter brought him to Columbus.

Saeid has played well early in the season, filling in for both Tony Tchani and Wil Trapp as a central defending mid. Compared to the normal halftime interview, Saeid brings relative lifetimes of experience to the table.

I realize that there isn't a whole lot to this interview but it doesn't take a lot for me. I've watched a lot of MLS games over the past five years, man. I guess through all the muck and normality, I just wanted to note this simple thing that doesn't happen often. Water in the desert, maybe. Either way. Much appreciated. More needed.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Sporting KC after Zusi, Besler Deals

Things haven't looked good for Sporting KC since July 31st of last year when Graham Zusi and Matt Besler signed their big new deals with Sporting KC.

Up through the World Cup last year Sporting was averaging 1.81 points per game. 11 wins out of 21. In MLS that usually puts you near the top of the standings, where Sporting KC had basically been since their sale, complete rebrand and move into their new stadium.

2011 : Finished 1st in Eastern Conference
2012 : Finished 1st in Eastern Conference
2013 : Finished 2nd in Eastern Conference
2014... 5th and dropping

The 1.81 PPG through 21 games in 2014 was business as usual for SKC. The team had finished the previous two season with 1.85 in 2012 and 1.71 in 2013. The team was good and on a roll but then the cities midwestern gladiators returned to a hero's welcome and a mountain of riches.

The riches part is fairly rare in MLS. On July 31st, 2014 Brian Straus wrote a piece on post World Cup Zusi and Besler. In it we find that not only are their dogs are sisters but they both got large (by MLS standards) deals of $600k+ annually. Riding the high post World Cup it just seemed to make a sense to a lot of people. There was another side to this, though. There usually is.

Critics of the deals pointed to both players settling for the comfy life in Kansas City instead of challenging themselves in better leagues. The topic has gotten heated within the borders of this country over the past 24 months because MLS, as a part of a larger business strategy, started paying whatever it took to get US Men's National Team stars to come back and play in league.

People that lean on the side of competition were less than happy with the move Zusi and Besler made and warned that not challenging themselves would lead to their game stagnating, or even suffering.

Now, after limping into and out of the MLS Cup Playoffs last year and starting off with two draws and a loss this year, Sporting have played 17 games since their new deals were signed and only 3 total wins to show for it - overall earning 0.76 points per game. 2013 Chivas USA, 2012 Toronto FC and 2013 DC United are they only teams that have operated that low since 2011.

0.76 PPG : Last 17 games of 2014/15 Sporting KC
0.76 PPG : 2013 Chivas USA
0.68 PPG : 2012 Toronto FC
0.47 PPG : 2013 DC United

It's drastic enough that even if I didn't know that the World Cup had happened or that two star players had gotten incredibly large and unusual new deals I would have figured some sort event changed the team's course last summer.

Whether or not Zusi and Besler are playing at a lower personal level than they were pre-World Cup last year is up to personal opinion. Maybe they would have struggled overseas in another league as well. Who knows. It's an abstract argument for podcasters to debate. What's not debatable is that Sporting has run aground since the new deals and it doesn't have anything to do with how well or not they are playing.


MLS is a league with a budget limit. There are ways to out spend others but it is very controlled and really only allows for a handful of exceptions. What this means is that if you are bringing in a highly paid player or giving large raises to existing ones, well, you have to move something else out.

Part of the process for SKC was moving Oriol Rossell for $1.5m a month before Zusi and Besler got new deals. At the time of sale, GM Rob Heineman said;
"The perception from the outside might be that the timing is not great, but from the inside we believe that the timing is perfect," he said. "It opens the door for Uri and for us. Uri came from Barcelona B to Sporting Kansas City, won an MLS Cup and furthered his development on the field. This transfer helps enable us to retain our core players while adding pieces to the team."
There have been a couple injuries to starters for KC of late but that happens to every team. The loss of Rossell and the fact that KC haven't replaced him or important defender and leader Aurélien Collin tells us that within the MLS budget structure giving two existing players big new deals is not the way to go. Competitively, anyway.

Now that we know that the new MLS budget / cap number is only a small % greater than last season, I'm not sure where SKC goes from here. Zusi and Besler currently make up about 30% of KC's budget and will going forward. Unless they figure out a way to drop one, or both of them the team is sort of in a bind that almost requires them to find another Rossell or fill the final Designated Player spot.

Results are down and wages are up. Unless things change, working around these two will be the competitive challenge that KC face for the next few years.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

An Unimaginable Dream

"We made it very clear money couldn't by Eidar, as Eidar is for everybody."

This Is Eibar - La Liga's smallest team take on Barcelona

Via Copa90 - Video Description:
SD Eibar are the smallest club, with the smallest stadium, with the smallest budget to ever play in La Liga history - this is their story. We go behind the scenes with the staff, players and fans of the Spanish Basque Country side, as well as meet past players including Bayern Munich's Xabi Alonso and Brentford's Jota.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

PODCAST: Red Cards in Helltown, Season 2 : Episode 2

Rick Gethin and Larry Johnson tear it down and then build it back up today. Newest hour of soccer things, Helltown. Hope you enjoy - thanks for listening.

• Bad weekend of MLS play, why? Our thoughts on that
• “If labor ever tells us they’re going to strike, we’d be like, ‘Fine, we’ll replace each and every one of you,’” said Heineman.
• "The Miami Connection" - Robert Andrew Powell
• CEO of Sprint like MLS because it's "communist"

• Follow up on 1st segment, "not a lot of us"
• Crew SC, one win and one loss on the season, looked good last week against TFC
• TFC with continued organizational problems, mentality
• Bradley's career
• Things look good for Crew SC next 6 weeks, set up rest of season
• Some local companies at Mapfre Stadium
• "under the radar?"

• Qatar final set (Dec. 18)
• Good discussion of ties (draws)
• NFL a 'TMZ sports league"
• Looking for the hardcore fan
• Ties have value, NHL

• NY Cosmos playing in Cuba June 2nd, 1st pro team in 38 yrs
• One of LA's stadium proposals failed (Farmers Stadium)
• 50 million dollars spend on pub
• NFL at the top of the curve

Monday, March 16, 2015

WhoScored Goodies, Crew SC

Taking some time today to update a mess of data and metrics I like to track. One of those things is the overall player ratings. I like them for what they are and have been recording / tracking them since they started to include MLS back at the beginning of 2013. What that means is that I've got 72 games of Crew SC data of which to pick apart! Wow, time is flying by.

Before I get to a boring box and whisker chart, here are a few fun and exciting TOP 10's...

9.62 -- Justin Meram (2013 Round 27 vs Houston)
9.40 -- Aaron Schoenfeld (2014 Rd 33 vs NY Red Bull)
9.25 -- Federico Higuaín (2013 Rd 24 vs Toronto)
9.07 -- Chad Marshall (2013 Rd 29 vs Montreal)
9.03 -- Federico Higuaín (2013 Rd 23 vs NY Red Bull)
9.00 -- Gláuber (2013 Rd 3 vs San Jose)
8.93 -- Justin Meram (2014 Rd 27 vs Chivas USA)
8.89 -- Tony Tchani (2013 Rd 30 vs Chicago)
8.86 -- Justin Meram (2015 Rd 2 vs Toronto)
8.86 -- Federico Higuaín (2014 Rd 12 vs Chicago)

Meram and Higuain take six of the top 10 spots here. Interestingly, six of the 10 are also from 2013. Looking farther down the list though, I see that 2014 dominates the 10-40 spots. Notably, Meram being the first Crew SC player to make top 10 each of last three years.

The top rated match by any Crew SC player since 2013 is Justin Meram back towards the end of 2013. He did just about everything in the middle of the field any MLS player has in this time frame. 80% passing on 46 attempts, 71 touches, 5 shots, 2 on frame. 4 key passes (one completely unselfish pass to Ryan Findley for a goal) and a couple clearances. The performances above are representative of what he can do at the MLS level - which is be dominate. What's interesting is that he never has a stinker of a game. It's only comparatively that we think he stinks it up sometimes. His magnificent performances set the bar high.

A couple more notes for the Crew junkies out there: Not sure many will remember that Schoenfeld late season game vs NY. I played about as well as a forward can in MLS that night (and added a brace). That late season 2013 Marshall game was when old Chad rose up to try and carry the team into the playoffs under interim manager Brian Bliss (it almost worked).

8 -- Wil Trapp (2013 Rd 26 vs Seattle)
7 -- Federico Higuaín
7 -- Federico Higuaín
7 -- Federico Higuaín
7 -- Federico Higuaín
7 -- Federico Higuaín
7 -- Federico Higuaín
7 -- Federico Higuaín
6 -- Federico Higuaín
6 -- Federico Higuaín

A key pass is a pass that leads to an opportunity. For the Crew, it's basically the "Higuain Stat." He's got 18 of the top 20 in this category.

Next up is a simple check on top defensive performances over the past couple years. What I've done is take the total of a handful of positive defensive actions, add them up and divide by the total number of touches the player had. The actions are Duels, Tackles, Interceptions, Effective Clearances and Shots Blocked.

100% -- Giancarlo Gonzalez (2014 Rd 5 vs SJE)
98% -- Michael Parkhurst (2014 Rd 35-PO vs NER)
98% -- Giancarlo Gonzalez (2014 Rd 24 vs LAG)
97% -- Emanuel Pogatetz (2015 Rd 2 vs TFC)
96% -- Tyson Wahl (2014 Rd 36-PO vs. NER)
96% -- Michael Parkhurst (2014 Rd 2 vs. PHI)
96% -- Eric Gehrig (2014 Rd 18 vs. NY)
95% -- Eric Gehrig (2014 Rd 16 vs. FCD)
95% -- Michael Parkhurst (2014 Rd 25 vs. HOU)
94% -- Tyson Wahl (2014 Rd 25 vs. HOU)

Not everything Giancarlo did in that game was perfect (he did miss a couple passes) but Opta data often doesn't add quite up. Close enough for things such as this. Take it as "these dudes had really good defensive games that day."


Okay, to finally get to why I'm here. has a rating system that rates each player based on actions each game. Along with Squawka, I think they are a pretty darn good way to get a general feel on how well a player did that night. For people like me, it helps narrow my focus before digging in.

On this box plot is each player's ratings from last year. The orange line is through the first two games this year. The new signings are on here, represented by the orange line only. So far Crew SC have hit on three of these guys (not as easy as they make it look, many times new guys are duds in MLS). I'll highlight Grana as an excellent signing. Pogatetz is a good replacement for Gonzalez and Kei is a massive upgrade at forward. All this is "so far" though. Only two games in.

A couple general notes on the rating scores:

6.80 and above... top MLS player
6.60 to 6.79... slightly above average player
6.40 and below... not looking good

Sunday, March 8, 2015

PODCAST: Red Cards in Helltown - Season 2 : Episode 1

New season, new show! This week we catch up with the new updated MLS CBA and some of the new dynamics starting to appear within Crew SC on and off the playing field.

• MLS Season started on time, CBA
• Qatar 2022 - Nations dropping out?
• Larger picture, global events
• NASL starting April 4th, growing
• "MLS2" - USL kickoff
• Garber offends Rick
• EPL table update, Championship look

• Crew SC / Houston result
• Tyler Deric, great game, familiar roster
• Kei Kamara's impact, changed dynamic
• The way Houston plays, took Crew too long to get chances
• "yeah we lost to Houston, but we outplayed them!" - every opponent
• Individual play - Steve Clark, Federico Higuain
• Crew Stadium is now MAPFRE Stadium
• Anthony Precourt changing anything not bolted down
• Lucky he didn't take it out back and go old yeller on it

• CBA, summary... status quo
• Player's share of rev
• Free Agency
• Player's view, victory on issue
• MLSPU executive committee rundown
• Not unanimous vote, 7 refused
• Pay increases 50-60k mins
• Upset players, Sports Illustrated

• Demanding better streaming quality
• Toronto FC, over/under
• New MLS cap makes you want to go back to bed

Thanks for listening!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Crew SC Budget Snapshot (with Updated CBA figures)

Dusted off the old spreadsheet now that we have a better picture of what the new CBA looks like.

Budget (cap) Summary:
$3.6 million : 2015 Salary Cap (budget, 1-20 on roster)
$3.1 million : 2015 Crew SC cap number
$0.5 million : 2015 Crew SC cap space

Crew SC have 28 players signed. According to reports, 28 is the 2015 max roster size. Here's how I've got everybody -

Player Name -- $ Estimated 2015 Wage -- % Increase over 2014
Federico Higuain -- 400,000 -- 0% (DP cap hit)
Emanuel Pogatetz -- 380,000 -- 2%
Michael Parkhurst -- 310,000 -- 3%
Kei Kamara -- 200,000 0%
Tony Tchani -- 200,000 -- 14%
Waylon Francis -- 160,000 -- 4%
Wil Trapp -- 155,000 -- 2%
Hernan Grana -- 150,000 -- 0%
Steve Clark -- 150,000 -- 8%
Kristinn Steindorsson -- 120,000 -- 0%
Ethan Finlay -- 115,000 -- 75%
Justin Meram -- 100,000 -- 9%
Tyson Wahl -- 92,000 -- 3%
Chris Klute -- 85,000 -- 6%
Ben Swanson -- 80,000 -- 0%
Hector Jimenez -- 80,000 -- 7%
Mohammed Saeid -- 70,000 -- 0%
Ben Speas -- 67,000 -- 3%
Romain Gall -- 60,000 -- 16%
Chad Barson -- 52,000 -- 7%

(off budget players)
Kevan George -- 52,000 -- 7%
Matt Lampson -- 52,000 -- 7%
Aaron Schoenfeld -- 52,000 -- 7%
Sergio Campbell -- 50,000 -- 0%
Sagi Lev-Ari -- 50,000 -- 0%
Kalen Ryden -- 50,000 -- 0%
Brad Stuver -- 50,000 -- 3%
Adam Bedell -- 50,000 -- 37%

STATUS QUO: Union, League Reach Agreement

Games will be played this weekend as the MLS Players Union and the League reach a tentative agreement on the terms of the next CBA. The details still have to be ironed out but we are getting snippets leaking out here and there. Here's a quick and informal list of what we know, in order of what I think most important.

1.  SALARY CAP (team budget) : Not what some expected (even below my lowest estimates). I've heard a couple different numbers, the one that seems to stick 15% bump in 2015 with 5% incremental increases till 2019.

2014 -- 3,100,000
2015 -- 3,565,000
2016 -- 3,743,250
2017 -- 3,930,413
2018 -- 4,126,933
2019 -- 4,333,280

There was another report out there of 20% bump this year +7% each of the next 5 years but that comes from LA's Todd Dunivant, of whom I respect, but think is including allocation funds. Even with that number, 2019 is still below 5 million.

2.  FREE AGENTS : Players get what the most fought for; free agency - albeit very controlled. It will require 8 years of MLS experience as well as being 28 years old. From there, depending on your pay rate, your contract can only be bid up by 15-25% depending on current salary (lower the salary, the higher the bid can be).

3.  ROSTER SIZE : This one hasn't really been reported on much but according to Sports Illustrated it has gone from 30 players to 28. I consider any loss of jobs / union membership a loss for any industry but probably made way for the next item:

4.  MINIMUM SALARY : Some changes here but still muddy. Early reports had minimum wages increasing from 37k to 60k but that has been walked back a bit. Sounds like now that will be 50k for the off budget guys and 60k for anyone "on budget" (most on-budget guys 1-20 made more than that anyway). Looking at last years wages that means about 150 players just got a raise. This will cost the league around $1.1 million dollars to do. Reports have the 60k figure creeping up to 70k by 2019.

5.  NEW CBA LENGTH : Five years. Which, in my mind is all but three of the ESPN / Fox / Unimas TV deal they just signed. It also bridges the next World Cup in Russia and will be negotiated a year after the "IS SOCCER THE NEXT BIG THING" hype.

So, there are the major points as I know them now. There are some other details I see here and there, like that three DPs is still the limit but I'll wait for the ratified contract to sort that sort of stuff out.

It's more of the same for MLS, ultimately. There are those of us here at Helltown - even as critical of the league that we are - thought the new cap would be much, much higher because of the new TV deal. It's looking like most of that money is going to where I sort of suspected though -- USMNT.

Important to not that the MLS Players Union Executive Board is made up of the following guys:

Todd Dunivant (34 yrs old / 11 yrs MLS XP)
Jeff Larentowicz (31/10)
Dan Kennedy (32/10)
Brad Evans (29/8)
Sam Cronin (28/6)

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

MLS Player Strike on Horizon

With teams looking to board planes Thursday for away games, Major League Soccer has about 24 hours from the time of this writing to get a deal done with the Players Union before the start of the season is pushed back.

From what I can gather, it's looking like the Union will instruct the players to strike. For how long is unclear but my guess is that it only lasts 4 to 8 weeks before it is settled. The major sticking point is Free Agency and MLS investors seems unwilling to budge much at the moment and players really want it.

Even though they are becoming extinct everywhere else, union labor disputes at the professional sports level are not unusual in the US. What makes MLS unique is that it is part of a global game with the top levels of it readily available at your finger tips. EPL, Bundesliga, LigaMX, La Liga, Serie A and more will all benefit a little if MLS has a work stoppage.

I don't think a strike hurts the overall game in the US or the rest of North America as the momentum is already there for pro soccer to survive. For the fan of domestic soccer - NASL, LigaMX and even USL stand ready to carry on even if MLS shuts down for an entire year.

A strike does, however, slow down the momentum MLS had. This hurts both the investors and players. We'll see how it plays out. Ultimately, a strike is sort of a futile exercise for the league. Greater change is needed in MLS - and that change comes in the form of the courts. Until the players realize they have greater powers as individuals in today's legal world - we will be right back here in a few years for the next CBA.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Sport Doesn't Need MLS

20,231 fans sold-out Hughes Stadium in Sacramento, California last night to watch a non-soccer specific stadium, non-major broadcast, non-international friendly, non-designated player, non-salary cap, non-coin flip to determine a player's future team, non-commissioner shouting at the USMNT coach, non-fining coaches and investors for speaking truth, non-labor union, non-allocation money spending, non-colluding, non-franchise fee paying, non-Adidas wearing...

...non-MLS game last night. And it was glorious.

NASL's NY Cosmos traveled out to play USL's Sacramento Republic FC for a preseason match last night and ended up beating them 1-3. There was no stream of the game (for whatever reason), nor was it on television.

This morning I woke up thinking that there is something wonderful about this game. Something special. I don't think it's the start of a movement or anything but it is certainly a sign. What I keep coming back to is that the United States does not need Major League Soccer to survive. The sport existed in this country for nearly 100 years before this latest league and I'm sure it will exist another hundred in whatever form going forward.

Maybe it's the combination of a snowy Columbus morn and my coffee kicking in to that is making this beautiful dance in my head over this match last night  - but - what we had was a NY Cosmos team that is rooted pre-MLS superstardom  vs. facing off against a sort of postmodern-non-MLS team in Sacramento Republic FC.

Nothing is up over at MLS headquarters about the game yet but when it is I'm sure we will get a story that reminds us of Sacramento's ties to MLS, which they no doubt have in their affiliation with San Jose along with the club's aspiration to be a top level team. Ultimately it might say "this is the growth that MLS has brought to the game in the US." Not going to find me arguing that but what I will point out is MLS was helped by the 94 world cup and the old NASL while the old NASL was helped by the International Soccer League and the ASL and on and on.

Because the United States does not have a truly independent governing body and a linked pyramid we get this ever evolving landscape of pro leagues that ebbs and flows on the whims of pop-culture. What hasn't wavered, however, is the popularity of the sport of soccer in this country.

It's always been popular. From immigrants setting up leagues at the turn of the last century to the game spreading to major cities in the midwest (like Detroit and Cleveland) during the automobile manufacturing boom post WWII - to the a super nova that was the NASL to the youth soccer explosion that followed in the suburbs all up and down the east coast at first but moving out to the suburbs of the midwest - to where it is now (which is basically California and hopefully moving out of the suburbs).

The sport needs a fresh change in the US and last night shows us that we have something magnificent happening right now. Something that doesn't need franchise fees or soccer specific stadiums or allocation money or research teams recommending the best TV markets that determine the next "division 1" team. The sport doesn't need that. Has never needed that.

We have dozens of "Sacramento's" in the US. Columbus would be a "Sacramento" if it were started today and not back in 1995 at the dawn of MLS. I look at 12 yr old Carolina Challenge Cup of which the Charleston Battery hosted this year with NY City FC and Orlando and see that area, relatively untouched by MLS until last year, showing that they could be a Sacramento - specifically because it doesn't have the baggage that MLS carries.

There's a global party happening where everyone is welcome and you only need to ask to take part. Last night saw a two clubs and their fans spend a few hours dancing the night away with the world.

Today MLS "fans" wake up to "division 1" pro soccer news of labor negotiations and the threat of a delayed season start over player freedom while arguments on social media rage over whatever the latest fine to be handed out is.

I wonder what the players, owners, investors and fans at that Cosmos / Republic match last night think of all that mess. I doubt they are thinking hardly anything about it today. My hope is that they think nothing of it in the future.