Monday, April 27, 2015

Finlay Log

It took Ethan Finlay 2 years, 2 months, 40 appearances and 890 MLS regular season minutes to get his first goal or assist but since then he has been on fire. In this last 9 months, 30 appearances and 2391 minutes he has 13 goals and 11 assists. That puts his Goal + Assist per 90 minutes (G+Ap90) at 0.90 rate. I've been tracking MLS players since the beginning of 2011 and that puts him in the upper tier (basically anything over 0.70 G+Ap90 is league leading).

Finlay's first appearance in a MLS games came during the first game as a pro. He was on the bench but an injury to starter Dilly Duka saw him come on in the 12th minute. Finlay got off a couple shots with one on target in 78 minutes of play. It was a forgettable loss to Colorado. Coach Robert Warzycha must have liked his effort there because he gave him a few more looks in the coming rounds, till ultimately Finlay found himself in the role of "squad rotation player."

It would be 80 Crew games before Finlay finally completed a 90 minute game. It's interesting for me to look at a player log like this. Both Warzycha and Berhalter went fishing with Finlay off and on for a long while. No doubt giving him opportunities because of his work in training and preseason (which he had a couple solid ones).

Can't overstate how rare this sort of thing Finlay is doing is in MLS. I've got to think Crew SC assistant coach Josh Wolff has a good bit to do with it but regardless... Rare.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

PODCAST: Red Cards in Helltown: Season 2, Episode 4

Rick Gethin and Larry Johnson sit down and talk soccer for an hour. No foolin'. This week RCiH walks through the dense forest that is the latest FIFA organizational headlines a bit before somehow winding up in the wild garden that is MLS, Crew SC and CONCACAF Champions League final. Hope you enjoy, thanks for listening.

• FIFA reject recommendation to re-run 2022 World Cup vote (link)
• Investments in sport currently huge from Middle East
• Fifa under pressure over Hammam Qatar bidding role (link)
• more future thinking, Russia 2018, equal vote, dangerous

• Crew dominate a bad Philly, 11 pts from 7 games
• MLS needs good teams punishing bad ones
• Great offensive games from Ethan Finlay, Kamara, Meram
• Audio from Berhalter (at 23:40 and 29:20)
• Finlay finding form
• Crew schedule normalizing finally
• A look at MLS standings

• Transfer rumors, "sources say"
• Simon Kuper: MLS is an "elephants’ graveyard " (link)
• Montreal CCL run, well traveled players key
• Club América in mist of tough schedule, Impact with month off
• MLS schedule shifted around, MTL to Club World Cup
• Difficulties for aging foreign players coming to MLS (link)
• 'Athleticism' wins a lot of games in MLS, needs to change

• 65th FIFA congress, votes
• % chance Blatter voted out
• Amazing how little biz size of sports talked about in US
• Will change with new face?

Saturday, April 25, 2015

4, 5, 6, 7 and 8

Major League Soccer currently has teams at 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 games played.

5 - NYR, TFC,
4 - MTL

Ever since I started following the league closely back in 2010 I've noticed that getting teams on the same round has always been a challenge for MLS. Five years ago, I thought the driver was that many of the teams didn't have a home stadium and had to plan around whatever event was at their home. I have a tough time seeing that now. Outside of NYCFC and New England all the teams above are playing in a stadium of which they are primary tenants.

This year the schedule disruption, I believe, comes from the new TV deal and MLS trying to get marquee matchups (or matchups the league thinks works from a marketing perspective) in the Sunday afternoon slots on ESPN 2 and Fox Sports and the Friday night games on UniMás. There are a lot. Basically it works out to about a third of the season has to be scheduled between the networks all season long (97 of 340 games).
So, what is the solution for MLS? I've been tossing that question around in my head for a couple weeks. It's frustrating that the league can't get teams close to the same round. This year they are so far apart that it almost appears there are a few leagues running simultaneously.

The quest to become relevant on television has completely overtaken the (already thin) competitive side of what is the MLS regular season. Is it the right thing for the league to do? Sacrifice the integrity of the season in order to try and solve the TV riddle?

It's a tricky challenge for the league and one they haven't quite figured out. For me, I would prefer that MLS start treating their competition like it matters. Like a priceless work of art. If they don't, nobody will, including the networks they currently play on.

On a side note: It's a shame that Columbus isn't on much. They are trying to play an attractive style and have a coach with a bright, potentially national, future. I get that attendances are low (teams with traditionally low attendances like Chicago, Dallas, Houston, DC, New England getting few games) but if MLS is going for viewers (that's the millions of SOCCER viewers - not "I watch all sports guy"), they are the team to put front and center.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Just the Game. The Home Town Crew

The 2015 Columbus Crew are the example of what Major League Soccer should represent, on the field, at this point in the league's history.

A mixture of talented players between the ages of 17 and 32. Not a single millionaire in the bunch.

Quality soccer minds, no small skill, creativity, cohesiveness...entertaining. A leader, in Gregg Berhalter, defining a space in which all these traits can flourish.

North Americans, South Americans, Europeans, Costa Ricans... no Iacans.

Certainly, there are weaknesses. The back line is not deep, especially in the middle.

Especially in the middle. The middle, where all things meet. Wonderful things can emerge from that place.

Young talent can show its potential and progress to greatness. The struggling sophomore has time to find his place and shine. Seasoned veterans lead by example and find renewed strength in the energy and optimism of their pupils.

The 2015 Columbus Crew are the example of what Major League Soccer should represent, on the field, at this point in the league's history.  

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

MLS Viewership: Low Tide

The best thing Major League Soccer got out of their new TV deal(s) last year with ESPN, Fox Sports and Univision was the regular time slots. The money is great (fine?) I'm sure, but judging by the new CBA it appears that most of that dough is earmarked for things not directly related to league operations.

The reason I like the regular slots is a little bit different then you might think. Of course it does help to know that late Sunday afternoons and evenings have a couple games on, but really, it's just that. A couple games are on. MLS wants so badly to be the NFL but they can't seem to work that out. One of the key ingredients of regular time slots for the NFL is that just about every team is playing at the same time. It's a gridiron explosion. Same thing with the college guys on Saturdays. Fans bask in the shared moments all across the country. So, no. Or yes. Whatever. Having consistent slots is good for MLS, but it's so paper thin. The Real Reason MLS coming on every Sunday (and Friday evening, and on the same channels) is because it improves the system by which we measure improvement (and failure).

In the past, MLS had games on the same channels, but the times jumped all over the place. Sure, ratings best compare to PBA Bowling, the WNBA and college softball but there was no way nailing down exactly where the league stood. With time slots floating all over you have a lot of noise. Maybe a game between LA Galaxy and Portland with an EPL lead in bumps ratings or how about a lonely Saturday night matchup in the fall between Colorado and DC United. I'd be working long hours trying to sort that out if I were a television industry professional (it'd probably include lots of calls to the local PR firm as well).

With these consistent MLS slots we can now more clearly see what is going on. The way it was best described to me during a Kaisen event many years ago was "being able to see all the rocks when the tide is low." What that means is removing as much clutter as possible (like a 5S) so see where the issues and challenges might be.

For as long as I've been paying attention, Soccer has always done pretty well on the small screen while at the same time MLS has always had a TV viewership issue. Excuses are many. Leading the list has always been time slots. Followed closely by quality of play, American's general hate for soccer, it's just too boring, broadcast quality (announcers, commentary, camera angles), league structure (single entity), etc... Along with the success of the English Premier League on NBC Sports - this deal wipes out many of those and will force the league to address some challenges they might not do otherwise (quality, league structure being the two big items).

To give you an idea of where MLS falls in the hierarchy of US sports (extremely general):

Millions (and millions): NFL. A regular Sunday afternoon matchup can top 10 million. The NFL juggernaut (preseason games get over a million). Millions: NCAA College Football. Millions: NCAA March Madness Final Four type games. About a Million: NBA and NHL regular season games. Close to a million: MLB games across poplar channels. Keep in mind the length of NBA, NHL and especially MLB.

Next up is English Premier League on NBC Sports and Real Madrid, Barcelona types on Bein Sports. These games tend to draw somewhere between 500-800k (El Clascio draws over 2 million). F1 and NASCAR racing sort of bounce between top tier and this 2nd group.

Outside of those guys fall the lower tier sports (3rd tier). WNBA, Bowling and MLS all fall around the 250-350k range on channels like ESPN 2 and Fox Sports.

The Challenge for MLS going forward will be to break free from the bottom group. The EPL on NBC has proven that it can happen for a soccer league and not just the World Cup. How that happens is something MLS has to figure out. Ratings might stink (they do) but now at least they know a few of the reasons why they do. They might not like what the see but hopefully they work on that.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Meanwhile... In An Alternate Sports Illustrated Universe

I loved Sports Illustrated as a kid. My dad subscribed under the "Johnson Boys." Couldn't wait to get it in the mail every week. That was back in the 80s and 90s. Just now saw the recent cover after the Masters and was taken back. Awful. Been a while since I checked in with printed SI, but here is how I'd have lost month's issue...

I realize a mess of things have changed since way back, but I would really love to read some long form on this golf guy. Or how about a giant season preview on MLS and the NASL... or a recap on the Prem (with illustrations). That'd be a SI I'd like to read.

Points per Game + Goal Diff (MLS)

It's not unusual for Major League Soccer's regular season schedule to be interrupted by one event or another (example: Montreal won't play their 5th game until week 10 of the season). As such, looking at normal standings doesn't tell you jack squat (same with most other North American leagues, to be honest - giant pet peeve of mine). It makes it hard to determine who is doing well and who isn't.

Yesterday, everybody in the league passed the ever important 5 game mark (except for Montreal). Below is each team's Points per Game + Overall Goal Difference avg. I like looking at it this way to give teams some separation and paint a better picture of who is doing well this early in the year.

3.2 - New York Red Bulls
2.4 - Vancouver Whitecaps
2.3 - Seattle Sounders FC
2.0 - DC United
1.9 - FC Dallas
1.8 - Columbus Crew SC
1.7 - L.A. Galaxy
1.6 - Real Salt Lake
1.5 - Houston Dynamo


1.0 - New England Rev., San Jose Earthquakes, NYCFC, Colorado Rapids
0.9 - Orlando City
0.8 - Portland Timbers, Chicago Fire
0.4 - Philadelphia Union
0.0 - Toronto FC
-0.5 - Montreal Impact

Friday, April 17, 2015

Major League Soccer: Irrelevant, Filler, Fleeting Tease???

Photo: Al Pacino as Michael Corleone. From the movie trilogy The Godfather.

Finish This Sentence: Keep your friends close…

You know the rest. Often associated with ruthless business endeavors, movies about organized crime and shady government fat-cats smiling over thousand dollar plates of pasta and truffles (while under the table calmly slitting the throat of the quixotic commoner), “and your enemies closer” carries much wisdom within its simple yet dark lesson.    

How might those few wicked words relate to the sport of soccer, and more specifically, Major League Soccer?

Perhaps “and your enemies closer” teases the thrill of sporting competition. Or, maybe, the intimate touch of our sporting enemies, when brushing dangerously close to our physical and spiritual vulnerabilities, arouses pure ecstasy, heartbreaking misery and engages all our senses in an unavoidable cauldron of escapist dreamscape.

Does Major League Soccer dare venture into the cauldron? Are the people guiding North America’s top league and professional soccer in the larger sense capable of grasping the meaning in the dreamscape of ecstasy and misery at the heart of our sport?

Evidence suggests the guiding minds have, to date, only stumbled unknowingly and occasionally into the deep racing river of soccer’s blood-red arteries.

The collection of rivals, sporting enemies, in the Northwest: Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, give a glimpse into what “and your enemies closer” might stir within the core of our sport. The intimate proximity of these clubs engages all our senses.

More often, our soccer senses, our souls, are only fleetingly teased by those running Major League Soccer. In a part of the world where millions of children and adults play, the signing of a handful of formerly brilliant players brings with it a hollow and temporary dip into the coppery smelling river of blood. These “business” moves wreak of condescension. Their long-term effect is a net negative. The soccer soul knows the difference between the charlatan’s loud bark and the true call of the ball as it rolls under foot.

Often, new cities and owners are chosen based on demographics, wealth and metrics which have little to do with what our sport is about. Worse, the devil’s plastic is given tacit approval despite the numbing effect it injects into the beautiful game. Those evil plastic fibers are one enemy to be shunned at all costs.

Which enemies should North American soccer embrace? Which enemies enhance and grow our sport? Which enemies stir the senses?

Start by embracing the regionalization of the top tiers of our sport. Expand the number of intimate rivalries. Professional soccer in North America would be better served by abandoning the East and West model. Create smaller regions, much like the Portland’s, Seattle’s and Vancouver’s existing in the Northwest.

Arouse the beating heart by creating six distinct zones for professional soccer in North America.

Example: The Mid-North: State a goal of eight teams in the top division. Cities like Columbus, Chicago, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, etc. Play each team in your region home and away. Play each team in the Mid-South region (Texas, etc.) home and away. This accounts for thirty games. Play each team in one other region once for eight more games. The eight game region would rotate each year to add an element of competitive balance and fan curiosity over time.

State a goal of having Promotion and Relegation within each region. Relegation will only begin after ten to fifteen years, in deference to the owners who started and built Major League Soccer into a sustainable top tier. Only those games played within a club’s region determine which teams go up and down. Cap the league structure at two divisions per region. Once relegation begins, three teams per region go down each year. The resulting turnover will guarantee incredible competition throughout the season.

Continue to have playoffs and championship for best in the first division. Top two of each region, plus four best third place teams, make the playoffs. Playoffs are single elimination, quick and dirty, Sunday, Wednesday, Sunday, Sunday.

Lastly, embrace the North American born player, regardless of heritage, and encourage in-depth, critical reporting on everything professional soccer in North America. Stop with the insular fear.

“And your enemies closer.” There is much wisdom within this simple yet dark lesson. In soccer it arouses pure ecstasy, heartbreaking misery and engages all our senses in an unavoidable cauldron of escapist dreamscape.

And, you never know, those businessmen, the ones who started the professional soccer ball rolling again in 1996, might just find monetary return beyond their wildest dreams if they let the heart of the game guide them. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

J. Morris

Jordan Morris is an American soccer player who currently plays college soccer at Stanford University.

Kaká an Attendance Test for Crew SC (and other aging MLS teams)

An important test both on the pitch and in the stands for Columbus Crew SC this weekend as they host playing legend Kaka and his Orlando City Soccer Club. Head to head, it's the first time these two have played at the MLS level but I've watched them battle it out a couple time in preseason years past (2012, 2013). Expect a good game. There will be another, perhaps more important, test for the central Ohio MLS team in the form of tickets sold.

There's no easy way to sugar coat this, so let's just get it out of the way; Columbus Crew SC has the lowest attended (tickets sold) game through 54 of the 2015 season so far. 10,302 - That's the number.

Any home attendance around 10k (or 50% capacity) puts Columbus (OH) right around the usual suspects, 2015 is no different: Colorado, DC, New England, Chicago, Dallas, (wait a second, this list is going longer than I thought)... have had a few stinkers this year. Which OF COURSE IS FINE. It's early and the teams that have been around the longest are (have always) dragged a bit. One of the things MLS has always done is run after the 18-34 type market. From the early Pepsi Next stuff to Snickers to MLS branded video games (yes, there was one), MLS has pushed extremely hard for the youth market. It's just that instead of Gen X - it's now millennials.

Funny thing about marketing to that age group is that they grow up (most of them, anyway). For whatever reason the Gen X kids didn't really latch on to MLS. I'm in that group and I gotta say that MLS felt like Our Thing. In fact, most of what you read is written by this group. But it's a small group. Maybe it's perfectly fitting that a generation that disliked everything, even things they liked, have largely turned their back on one of their very own creations in MLS.

New MLS teams like Orlando City and NYCFC are very much Millennial creations. Born out of a thirst for not creating a sustainable league for domestic talent but more just having a local soccer event to go to that's just like those exotic foreign leagues they see on the T.V.

Kaka is a living legend for many. The fact that he is still playing and doing it in MLS is paying off just about as much as any market forecast could have predicted. Games down at the renovated Citrus Bowl have been successful, as far as selling tickets. Coming off a prime time TV World Cup, I'm not sure many expected much different though and Kaka is a massive part of that.

The influence of Kaka reaches beyond Orlando, of course. Every one of their away games have announced attendances above 20k and (basically) sold out.

22,407: BBVA Stadium, Houston. March 13th.
25,245: Olympic Stadium, Montreal. March 24th.
21,144: Providence Park, Portland. April 12th.
??,???: Mapfre Stadium (Crew Stadium), Columbus. April 18th.

What's funny about those figures is that they are the only thing that drops down when you click on the expand arrow on the Orlando site. Anyhow. I've been watching "The Crew" long enough now to say that those question marks will turn into something like 14-16k. Even if that many don't show, that's what will be announced. Looking at the Ticketmaster site tells me about as much.

The travelling Kaka tour will, of course, continue on past Columbus and will probably carry steam till the dog days of summer. This weekend's game at Mapfre Stadium will be something of a sobering reminder that hype, marketing and superficial spending only get you so far. For MLS to survive past the age of expansion they have to put effort and energy into the Game. Otherwise, Orlando will be another Columbus in a decades time and you'll be forced to reading some millennial hot take on why nobody is showing up to games featuring Neymar and Daley Blind.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


Happytown Applesauce
A little while back I created a little place called Happytown Applesauce to write and do - well, whatever really. After resisting the urge many a night to post here (sometimes succumbing), I've decided to make it a place to tuck away my thought on games. It'll serve the same purpose as Helltown. Just a creative outlet with as many interesting thoughts as possible, clean space and not driven by ads. Honest thoughts, warts and all.

I've just finished a post on EA's Battlefield Hardline (LA Noire and writer Tom Bissell). Not out to change the world but I like games and do feel like they are a little under served as far as thoughtful writing. I'll do my best. Go check it out if that's your thing. Thanks!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

PODCAST: Red Cards in Helltown - Season 2 : Episode 3

David Burgin, Larry Johnson and Host Rick Gethin are back to give you a full hour of soccer things. Hope you enjoy, thanks for listening!

• Extended discussion on Montreal making the CCL final
• MLS shifting the schedule around, right / wrong
• Large shadow over regular season

• Recent Crew SC results
• Drawing two games during busy travel week, Berhalter's approach
• Value of a draw in today's MLS
• New England possessing in Crew SC half
• Difference between Kamara, Bedell and Schoenfeld
• Outside factors influencing MLS players
• David talks about what would make soccer explode

• DeAndre Yedlin getting some time
• Absence of US players in the EPL
• Implications for national team, playing and training overseas
• Oduro and too much pizza
• NYCFC, how Kreis is doing
• Carrying around a bag of cement
• Small stadiums, Ohio Stadium and Brian Maisonneuve

• What does MLS need to do to be relevant?

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Simple Look

Goes without saying that it's too early in the season to be making any firm judgments on where teams will finish the season. Too many twists and turns left in this MLS season. I mean, 2015 league rules are not even posted yet and the CBA hasn't been ratified, not to mention that getting that one right player this summer (New England's Jermaine Jones) can get you to the MLS Cup Final.

Still though. We can look at how good teams are right now, at this very moment! Even though going we are going into week 6 (?) and have a couple teams with only 3 games played.

Observing the league over the years I've learned that most things in MLS have to be looked at generally. Like; Generally, Columbus likes to control possession. Generally, Seattle finishes their chances. So what I've done here is look at just that. Possession and Finishing, and sprinkle in actual results to separate the teams.

Twenty teams in the league this year so we have nice even numbers. Let's separate into three groups.

Top 5
Middle 10
Bottom 5

1st up, let's make sure of the relationship possession has to this year's results.

Median Possession % (avg)
52.3 - Top 5...  (51.6)
50.8 - Middle 10...  (50.4)
49.5 - Bottom 5...  (48.7)

Next is finishing. Generally speaking in MLS teams score 1 goal for every four shots on target. This is a very dirty way to do this but if you look at how many goals per game a team scores against that measurement it matches up pretty well with results. Meaning; out perform the 1 goal per four Shots on Target and you, obviously, are higher on the table. On my image this is ActG-LjExpG (which is just a sloppy Actual Goals - Larry's Expected Goals).

Goals above Expected (avg)
+1.03 - Top 5... (+0.58)
+0.00 - Middle 10... (+0.30)
-0.48 - Bottom 5... (+0.15)

Lastly are results. Sort of self explanatory here.

To get mere where I want to be I'll assign ten points to being in the top five... 5 points for the middle ten... 0 points for bottom five.

Towards the bottom is Crew SC. They aren't finishing their chances at a good rate. It's dogged them last year as well. It's actually one of the reasons Kei Kamara was brought in. If Vancouver hadn't made a couple mistakes Wednesday, this would look even worse. I would expect this to improve as season chugs along.

Not trying to change the world here, just painting an early season picture. I like to do this to later on in the season I can check back to compare. Have a great Saturday! Thanks for reading.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Crew SC Getting Impatient

Last night was the fewest passes per shot since Gregg Berhalter took control of the team. It's been coming, though. I took a look at last year and Crew SC finished up the year at around 27 passes for every shot taken (6th in the league). This year it's around 20 (2nd to last).

This top chart shows game by game how many passes Crew SC make before taking a shot.

The yellow line is a five game rolling average, to smooth it out. The black line in the background is game by game.

Note that after Round 24 last year (2014-24) there was a change in approach to attacking play. The exception is clearly Round 31. That happens to be when the Crew SC took on a motivated and hyperactive Jermaine Jones. Crew SC only got off 8 total shots that night.

The 2nd graph (below) paints a little bit of a better picture. Taking out the wacky Super Jermaine Rd 31 match tells us that Berhalter has tinkered a bit with how quickly shots are taken. You can see that there was some consideration to the opponent last year and no doubt that some of that was do to opposing coaches not being familiar to what Crew SC are trying to do.

I don't believe there is any right or wrong way to play things here. Making less passes before taking a shot pushed Columbus into 3rd place going into the playoffs last year. With that, however, the Crew have played a number of stinkers since the made those playoffs last year... Two games against New England, the NY game at home this year and arguably a 'just survive' game last night against Vancouver.

Columbus has been known as a tight, possession based team since the beginning of last year. There are a few other things that point to Crew SC going more direct but I think this one is the most descriptive. I will say that all of last year Columbus dictated the play through possession, while over the past ten games or so, that's not the case.

Through circumstance or necessity, the shape of things are changing.

It'll take a few more games to be able really tell if things have changed. Suspensions (Federico Higuain) and injury (Wil Trapp) are part of the deal. Every team has to deal with those things. Perhaps Columbus got a tad lucky last year on both fronts? We'll know here soon if that's the case.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Don Garber's Mythical Super City

"I've tried to be very clear, in the indirect communications I've had with a number of principles, that in my view there's not going to be public support for subsidizing a new stadium," Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton.

The Principles in Governor Dayton's conflict averse quote are Commissioner Don Garber of Major League Soccer and former UnitedHealth CEO Bill McGuire and the New Stadium is the one Garber is requiring McGuire to build before Minnesota's soccer team can join the league.

We've seen this sort of thing from MLS before in Miami with David Beckham's group trying to buy into MLS. For whatever economic reason there are some cities MLS wants to have a stadium in before they enter and others that do not require one. You could call it a double standard were it not for a couple other teams - that either have a stadium or great support - that make it a triple, or even quadruple, standard.

When you sit down and list out a simple set of requirements that Don Garber and team have mentioned over the years it makes a little more sense as to what qualifies as a potential MLS city (post twenty). Here's the breakdown:

1. Television market. If you are near the top of the list, you are in.
New York - Yes! you're in! Don't need anything else.
Los Angeles - Yes! you're in!
Atlanta - Yes! + A NFL owner?! you're in!
Miami - No, or at best border line.
Minnesota - No, sorry.
San Antonio - Nope.
Sacramento - Nah.
2. Investment Fee. Probably should be number one right? No. Well, personally don't think so. If there was no investment (i.e. Franchise Fee) out there for places like LA and Atlanta then MLS would have flipped the bill for the team. In fact, there isn't much concrete evidence out that that even says the group in LA and Atlanta even paid much of one (if at all outside operating fee year to year). 
3. Place to play. Top market cities don't need a stadium. If you are not in a top 5 like market, you need your own place. The only city of the four that above that meet this criteria is San Antonio but they don't have the next item. 
4. History that shows some rooted soccer support. This is where Miami and Minnesota jump back in and Sacramento and San Antonio drop back out. 
5. Pre-existing team (USL, NASL). Finally, the last one that should be the first. A stable team with a front office.

Running down this it sort of plays out like: If "1" then you are in. If not "1" then you need the other four items. For Miami, it basically just has number 2, which is likely why it's dropped out of the picture. Sacramento checks off the pre-existing team, strong support boxes but they have no stadium (or much of a plan for one) nor do they have the TV market. It's also not known if they have the financial investment MLS requires.

Now we are down to the next two. One of them appears broken and the other is just down right disgusting. Let's start with the broken one first.


This past week the Sports Business Journal reported that Gordon Hartman has brought in Citigroup to help sell his NASL San Antonio team. MLS has been meeting with Hartman over the past 12-18 months discussing a future in the league. The news of a sale tells me that either Hartman's group is not in or that Hartman thinks he can't make much in MLS and wants to cash out and move on.

What's curious about this is that San Antonio meets the all important stadium requirement along with the pre-existing team item but the sale makes it appear that it is short on all others.

Hartman says that Citigroup has already collected the first round of bids for the team, which includes Toyota Field and the adjacent 75-acre soccer complex. In the SBJ report, Hartman said that most of the proceeds from the sale will go to a special needs charity Hartman built.


Minnesota is almost there. In fact, it's closest to the Mythical Super City that Don Garber wants. It has they investment fee (likely) and strong support with an existing team but is missing the all important Stadium since they aren't a gigantic TV market.

A vote on the still not proposed stadium in Minneapolis comes up this July. Outside of any proposal the (or any) stadium doesn't have the support of Governor Mark Dayton. Dayton is a powerful fella, but he's not the only person in power to think this way. House Speaker Kurt Daudt, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges have also spoken against the prospect of a subsidy for the stadium.

"It's great you're coming. It's great you're trying to bring this franchise and excitement and opportunity to Minnesota," Dayton said. "But this time you're going to have to go it alone."

That body blow of a quote is likely why the buzz around this latest expansion announcement is already largely forgotten. It's a body blow that Don Garber was willing to take though, and herein lurks the disgusting part of all this. Even if if Minnesota fails on the stadium in the coming years, Garber and MLS got a few words in the press and on social media and all it cost them was a couple plane tickets and a short speech.

A few weeks ago AEG, one of the original MLS investment groups, announced that their downtown $30 million a year Farmers Insurance naming rights Los Angeles stadium proposal was... dead. There were a lot of powerful people involved with this. From Tim Leiweke to former Farmers CEO Bob Woudstra. Reports say that between parties and the actual designing of the proposed stadium, AEG dropped $50 million. Fifty!

The failure of the project no doubt lead to some corporate reshuffling (among them the departure of Leiweke and Farmers' CMO Kevin Kelso) and you might think that a dead proposal means failure, but alas, you are wrong. A place called Front Row Analytics attached a value of $6 million in total exposure for Farmers Insurance through the whole failed deal.

What the executive team at MLS have done is basically a stripped down version of what AEG and Farmers did. Let's call it a 'minor league' version. Garber and team skipped the expensive stadium renderings, research on where to put it and proposals on the impact to the city and citizens and jumped right to the "exposure" benefits and still had the gall to tell McGuire and team that there is no MLS without a stadium.

To me, that's disgusting.


I think the thought is that MLS can bring (drag) cities along by generating some interest with a peppering of press conferences and releases but there is no city in North America that seems to be able to check off all the boxes for MLS.

The check boxes exist only because of the way MLS is approaching how to build a professional soccer league.It's a tough row to hoe these days. Political leaders and civilians are on to the scam that is most new stadium proposals.

Governor Dayton described citizens in Minneapolis as having as "stadium fatigue." I think that could be said for just about everywhere in the US right now. This approach to growing pro sport's leagues is dying, if not dead already (college facilities, another discussion). Leaders in the industry will be those that think creatively, differently and aren't afraid or too egotistical to look abroad existing solutions to age old problems.