Saturday, May 30, 2015

It's Happening Here

Earlier today newly re-elected President of FIFA Sepp Blatter lashed out at the United States over the recent FBI indictment.

"No-one is going to tell me that it was a simple coincidence this American attack two days before the elections of FIFA. It doesn't smell right. This has touched me and FIFA. 
Not only did they try to denigrate me but also they used the moment to say, 'This is the time to go'. We are going to boycott the congress'. But where are we? Where is the sportsmanship? There are signs that cannot be ignored. The Americans were the candidates for the World Cup of 2022 and they lost.
"The English were the candidates for 2018 and they lost, so it was really the English media and the American movement. If they have a financial crime that regards American citizens, then they must arrest these people there and not in Zurich when we have a congress in Zurich.
"The United States, it is the main sponsors of Hashemite kingdom [Jordan]. This corruption affair is between North America and South America. It was taken to Zurich and they say it is FIFA.'' 
"The journalists made a deal: Blatter out. It is a hatred not only by one person at UEFA but by the organisation of UEFA that has not accepted that I have been president since 1998. I forgive everyone but I don't forget."

Outside of what's basically Blatter saying this is all sour grapes, let's remember that this happened HERE. In the United States. Bribery, racketeering, fraud. All within these borders and in our banks. The FBI is working on cleaning it up, which is great, but it's sickening and it should do the same to you if you are an American.

In the United States I know we like to think that we carry on honest competitions. Over at Sports Illustrated I see that the are continuing to take the stance that corruption, particularly in soccer is far from our shores. That's it's a problem with them. It's true that FIFA has been awash in corruption for decades, but the fact that it happened (is happening) in our backyard is black mark on the game in this country that's going to take generations to wash off.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Temples for the Soulless

“Dad, quit sweating on me,” laughed Manish as his father tried to steal the soccer ball from him.

Bikash smiled at his son’s confidence and sense of humor, and then he shook his long black hair side to side, spraying the much too fast teenage boy with drops of the offending bodily fluid. “If I can’t catch you, I’m going to drown you.”

Manish groaned, put his foot on the ball, teasingly lifted his left foot as if to push the ball around his father on that side, and then exploded to the right and past the only thirty-five year old man in the world he trusted.

Bikash was beaten. He watched with pride as his son weaved his way past Bikash’s best friend, Kumar, and rolled the ball into the goal made from old fence posts. Manish spun around, high fived his teammate, Kumar’s son, Sunil, and weaved left then right, arms raised in imitation of a soaring bird, back to his own end of the worn dirt field.

Bikash and Kumar smiled inside, while frowning feigned disapproval, lest their sons’ egos grow to proportions greater than their limitless teenage dreams.

The two men looked to the west. The sun was dropping behind the mountains of the Annapurna range. The deep pride and love for their sons was replaced with sobering thoughts of being far away from their homes and families. Each father knew this would be the last night, for at least a year, that they would see a sunset in their home country of Nepal. The chance to share the late afternoon chasing their sons on such a perfect March day was bitter sweet. In the morning the two friends would board a plane and begin their journey to Qatar.

Bikash and Kumar were construction workers. Both men possessed Annapurna mountain stamina and an almost supernatural ability to work at great heights, on narrow beams, with seemingly no effort or fear.

What the two men did fear was the journey to Qatar. Neither man had ever left Nepal. But the promise, in just a year’s time, of wages equal to five year’s earnings in Nepal was enough for the two lifelong friends to swallow their fear like the Annapurna Mountains swallow the sun’s light each night.

“Come on, dad, let’s play another game to three. Maybe you and Sunil’s dad will finally win,” kidded Manish. Sunil pointed at the two thirty-something year old men and grinned. “Never happen.”

Bikash and Kumar looked at each other. They knew they should go inside for supper. They knew they should sit around the dinner table with their children and wives until the mountains to the east spit out the new day’s sun. But there had to be time for one more game. Bikash wished for only one thing right then, a lifetime of one more game.

A space inside Bikash’s soul, a space growing by the minute, was threatening to swallow his Nepalese heart and any thoughts of family, mountains and games. He and Kumar were going to build some of the most magnificent soccer stadiums in the world. They had been telling their soccer loving sons stories about all the people, from all over the world, who would be sitting in the stadium’s their fathers would build. This was how they convinced their sons that leaving for an entire year was worthwhile. This was how they tried to keep the cancerous growth in their souls from poisoning the blood of Annapurna in their veins.

Bickash gritted his teeth and then spat on the ground. Kumar looked at his struggling friend and realized his own hands were balled into fists. Neither man moved.

“Hey, dad, are we going to play one more?” said Manish softly, while looking at his father’s distant stare.

Bickash focused on his son. The smile returned to his face. “One more game, but this one is to twenty-two.” Manish and Sunil cheered.


The flight, on a plane emblazoned with the logo Emirates had been crowded with many men like Bikash and Kumar. Eighteen to thirty-something-year-olds, all hiding nervous anticipation, chasing a dream of money that would allow them to return home and start a business or build a new home. Some of the men had never been on a plane before. Some could not help but be sick. Good-natured laughter followed each man’s failure to be tougher than the rising and falling plane.

Now, Bikash was sitting on a cot, his bed for the next year. His new bosses had walked smartly down the middle of the long building which housed the stadium construction workers. Each new man from Nepal was assigned a bed in a room which slept four. Two small dressers were pushed up against the whitewashed walls. Two men would share each dresser, two drawers per person. Bikash eyed his surroundings as a tiny drop of sweat rolled off his forehead and slipped past his right eye. He could make do. For a year, he could make do.

The walk across the compound to the sleeping quarters included a glimpse of the stadium site. Dirt and sand had already been shoved this way and that. Piles of equipment, steel beams and concrete block waited patiently for the men from Nepal.

There wasn’t much in Bikash’s new bedroom to keep his attention. His mind began to replay the sights he had seen after the plane had landed. Busses with Budweiser, Castrol and Johnson and Johnson painted in giant letters from nose to stem pulled up to the Emirates plane. The Nepalese men walked directly from the plane onto the busses. The air in Qatar, hot, even in March, surprised the mountain men.

Driving through the streets of Doha, the capital of Qatar, the Nepalese men had stared through the windows trying to find something familiar. They were unsuccessful. People dressed in white walked the streets. No mountains anywhere. The trip to the construction worker’s compound was short. Bikash did recognize one sign near the entrance to his new home, a giant yellow M on a tall metal pole. Bikash had seen this on television before. It was the sign of an American restaurant. His stomach had rumbled, and he had elbowed his friend Kumar. Kumar had absently nodded without turning away from the bus window.

Bikash stopped daydreaming about busses and McDonald’s. He set his backpack on the floor and sat down on his bed. Night was near in Qatar. The morning would bring work. Bikash tried not to think, too much, about his family and home.


Despite the long and exhausting trip the previous day, Bikash had found sleep hard to steal from his new surroundings. He, Kumar and their two new roommates tossed and turned. Late in the unfamiliar night, Bikash sat up on his cot. He stared at the white wall, his strong leathery hands resting lightly on his knees. Finally, he stood, quietly exited his room, and walked the long hallway. Bikash counted the doors he passed. There were twenty-two, eleven on his right and eleven on his left.

At the end of the hallway he paused to look out the windows in the double door at the end of the building. Bikash pondered the meaning of the windows. There were none in his room. And there were no windows in the rooms he had looked inside the day before. The meaning escaped him.

He tried to open the door. It was locked. “It would be easy to break the door open,” thought Bikash. “It is so fragile, why lock it?” He was tired. He turned around and began counting bedroom doors once again.

When he reached the other end of the narrow hallway, having counted a total of thirty-two bedroom doors this time, he stared out the window and rattled the door handle, locked. Bikash wondered once more about the locked door. “Silly,” he thought. “Reminds me of the tiny cemetery back home.” A smile found its way to his lips.

When he and Kumar were children, they would sneak out of their houses late at night and slip through the metal gate at the entrance to the cemetery. The gate was always locked, but was simple enough to slip through or jump over. The two friends would race in the moonlight, up and down the narrow pathways between the graves, counting the gravestones.

A hand touched Bikash’s shoulder. He almost screamed as he spun around. Standing inches from him was a man he did not recognize. “This man must have already been here when we arrived yesterday. He has probably been working with the crews digging the foundation of the stadium,” reasoned Bikash. The man stared blankly at Bikash. After a few seconds of silence, the man spoke.

“You’re new.” It was a statement, not a question. Bikash nodded. The blank faced man tilted his head slightly to one side. “Go back to your room and go to sleep. Do not ever wake me again. The moments of rest here are like diamonds you cannot touch, and they are the only treasure you will ever find in this desert.” Before Bikash could respond, the man turned and slipped silently back into the bedroom closest to the doors with the windows.

Bikash stood for a moment longer and then walked as quietly as possible back to his room.


Bikash lifted a concrete block from the pile nearest the deep trench that would become the foundation for the east end side of the stadium. He walked a few steps, bent over, and handed the block to a workmate who was standing in the trench. Bikash immediately walked back to the pile of cement blocks and got another. The heat was intense in the middle of the day. “Funny though,” thought Bikash. “I don’t seem to be sweating.” He handed off the next block.

A loud scream startled Bikash as he reached for the next block. All the workers on the site stopped what they were doing and looked over to the area the scream came from. At the north end of the stadium, near a large billboard showing a man drinking Coca Cola, a bulldozer idled in a shallow trench. A crowd of workers stood along the edge of the trench near the dozer’s large blade. Bikash walked quickly towards the crowd. Kumar joined Bikash, and they reached the crowd together. No one spoke.

On the ground, pinned under the bulldozer’s blade was a man that Bikash and Kumar had flown with the day before. Both of the man’s legs were crushed under the blade. The skin, muscle and tendons of both thighs, below where the blade rested, had been ripped away from the shattered bone. Blood spilled freely from the man’s torn legs and seeped into the dirt at the bottom of the recently begun hole. The man was either unconscious or dead. Bikash turned away as the stadium foreman yelled for the men to get back to work.

Bikash and Kumar huddled together. They had seen men injured, and even killed, on work sites before. It was usually very easy to determine what caused an accident like this at a work site. They mumbled to each other about what they had just seen.

“It looks like one of the trench walls crumbled,” whispered Kumar. Bikash nodded. “The poor man must have been watching from the edge of the trench when the ground crumbled beneath his feet,” he replied. Both men pawed at the sandy ground with their work boots.

“This should not have happened,” said Bikash.

“You men, get back to work! This is not your concern,” came a shout from behind the friends. Bikash and Kumar looked around. Most of the other workers were already back to work. Bikash didn’t like it, but he walked back to his pile of concrete blocks.



For three months, Bikash and his friend toiled under the ever increasing heat of Qatar. Both men had lost at least twenty pounds, and neither man had been overweight when they arrived. The ten and twelve hour days were devouring all the men who worked in the unforgiving desert. Two months earlier, Bikash had complained, but the men who had been there longer told him to keep quiet. They told him he would be lucky to get paid, let alone get a shorter work day or a break during the hottest time of the day.

Only a week later, Bikash found out that his wages were not being sent to his home in Nepal, as they were supposed to be, neither were Kumar’s. They had threatened to leave, but were told they could not. Their passports were being held, and they would have to honor their one-year contract. Promises to send wages, soon, were made by the bosses. To make matters worse, small plastic cards with the word VISA stamped on them were given to the men. The men were told that a portion of their pay was on the cards and was deducted each month for their housing and food. In Nepal, Bikash and Kumar had been told that their housing and food were free.

Bikash missed his family.

Some men, “too many” thought Bikash, got to go home to Nepal or India early. Those men were either shipped home in a box or without an arm or a leg. Bikash was keeping track of all the accidents at the building site. It was a gruesome way to occupy his mind, but there were so many. He felt someone must make a record.

In just three months twelve men had died building their stadium. Another eighteen had been seriously injured. Many men collapsed from heat exhaustion. Half the men who died, died from that very cause.

Despite the stress, from fear of wondering if he was next, Bickash occasionally found escape from his plight. Sleep was deep. Dreams were vivid. He cherished the moment each evening when his head found the pillow on his cot. Those nights were precious.

More so, because, every two weeks the men would change shifts and work under the lights at night. Construction was most dangerous at night. Men were tired, shadows fooled the usually sure footed. Sleep was not as deep during the day. It was hot in the tiny, windowless rooms. Dreams rarely came to Bikash when he worked the slender metal beams at night.

The things that the bosses thought amused and entertained the workers: rides into the city in Hyundai cars; television on Sony TV’s; and supposedly free Adidas clothing did little or nothing for men who knew tomorrow might be their last.

Bikash didn’t want his last memory to be of his friend, Kumar, looking down on him while Bikash’s life-blood soaked into the shifting sand. He wanted to go home. He wanted to see his family and chase his son around the makeshift soccer field in the back yard. He wanted to tell his son that the stadium he was building was not so special. If Bikash died, he didn’t want his son thinking that this particular stadium was such a meaningful place, not when it was built upon the blood of so many.


A cold front had swept over Qatar during the night. It was only 100 degrees. The construction workers joked about mountain winters and needing coats.

Bickash was once again working the day shift, as was Kumar. Kumar was high above Bickash, guiding beams into place. The beams would support the stands in which the soccer fans paying hundreds of dollars for a ticket would sit.

Bickash was moving supplies on the ground. He would much rather have been walking the high beams with his friend, but the bosses split-up the two at the beginning of their shift. Bickash hated the work on the ground. There was no breeze and breathing in the dust kicked-up by the big machinery made his nose bleed at night when he was trying to sleep.

Despite the bloody noses, Bickash was sleeping better. He knew the reason. In his pocket was a letter from home. The letter, when it arrived, was obviously months old.

In all the months he’d been in Qatar, it was the only letter he’s received from Nepal. In the note, his wife told him that everyone in their town was okay after the earthquake. Homes were damaged, but their town was lucky compared to Kathmandu. She told him she loved him and hoped he would return soon.

Manish had also written in the letter. “Hey, dad! Hope the stadium looks cool. Maybe we can go to a game when it’s finished. I got to see a Champion’s League game on the TV at Sunil’s a couple days ago. Those guys are so good. Do you think I can be that good some day? Anyway, I miss you. Love, Manish.”

Bickash patted his back pants pocket. He did that often, just to be sure the letter was still there.

As he sat down for his break, he took the letter out and began reading it for the twentieth time. A scream pierced his moment of relief.

Bickash looked up. The men always looked up when they heard a scream. Only fifty feet away, Bickash saw a man falling. The man seemed to be in slow motion, his body twisting and his arms and legs flailing. Bickash didn’t want to look, but he couldn’t turn away. Kumar was up there somewhere.

Without knowing it, Bickash stood and began walking toward where the man landed after striking the edge of a concrete structure on the ground. Bickash began running.

Kumar was dead. Bikash could not speak as he held his lifelong friend’s lifeless hand in his own.

A beam, poorly welded, had come loose. It had knocked Kumar from his perch near the top of the west stands. Kumar’s fifty-foot fall ended with his head striking the concrete structure that would someday be the locker room in which the world’s finest and richest athletes prepared to take the field.
Despite loud orders from the bosses to leave, many of Bikash’s fellow workers lingered around Kumar. Bikash picked up his friend and carried him all the way back to their windowless room. Bikash counted the doors as he walked. Ten. He placed his friend on his cot and thought, while looking down at Kumar’s body clad in Adidas sweat pants and t-shirt, “I hope you find one last dream my friend. Maybe a dream of mountains and dirt soccer fields.” A small bead of sweat slipped from Bikash’s forehead and landed on his friend’s chest. The letter from home, soaked with Annapurna blood, still clutched tightly in Bickash’s scarred fingers.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

FBI Indictment Body Blow to USSF, NASL

Among the dozen+ arrests made by the United States Department of Justice yesterday was President of Traffic Sports DSA, Inc, Aaron Davidson. Many of you might already know but Traffic had a heavy hand in the creation of the new NASL about a half decade ago. Since the formation most teams in the league of found their owners save for Carolina RailHawks. Davidson is also chairman of NASL Board of Governors.

There are many that pit the NASL against Major League Soccer like two warring factions trying to claim the same land but in reality they both fall under the leadership of the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) and it is their responsibility to make sure operations are being run legally (among other things). The presence of such a person as Davidson in your organization shows a high degree of incompetence, ignorance, or worse, deeper corruption.

Soccer has long been the fifth wheel in the US and has many stereotypes that continue to dog it since... since, as far back as I can remember. Many of those stereotypes are being confirmed. Right now as I type, there's more info pouring out of every Fifa confederation across the world. Briefcases full of money, former Fifa vice presidents falling ill to avoid questioning. Even some reports saying the 2002 World Cup was rigged (which, is likely true, as most are 'steered').

All of this is incredibly damaging to the sport in the United States and, in particular, the NASL. At the moment I'm fairly confident that the teams in the league will survive but I have my concerns about which league they will be playing in down the road.

Major League Soccer nor it's mysterious partner Soccer United Marketing (SUM) is mentioned directly in the indictment but there is enough smoke to say there is a fire. League Commissioner Don Garber is also CEO of SUM and the DOJ report mentions a handful of unnamed companies similar to SUM, as well as 25 additional co-conspirators.

I do believe that for all it's ills, MLS likely pays it's taxes. They might not fly straight, but they do that, I think. I'm not so confident about SUM (which was formed in the early 2000s shortly after Garber arrived) nor am I confident as to how SUM was formed or how they obtained the rights that they have.

We'll have to see. Just since I started writing this USSF president Sunil Gulati has been tasked to run CONCACAF in this time of crisis. Gulati is long to lover of the status quo at Fifa but all this is happening in his backyard.

Much more is to come, that's for certain.

Here is the paragraph in the official FBI Indictment on Aaron Davidson.

30. The defendant AARON DAVIDSON, a citizen of the United States, was an individual employed by and associated with the enterprise. At various times relevant to the Indictment, DAVIDSON was a high-level executive, including the president, of Traffic Sports DSA, Inc. ("Traffic USA"). Traffic USA was a Florida corporation that had its headquarters and principal place of business in Miami, Florida and was involved in the purchase and sale of media and marketing rights associated with soccer in the United States and other parts of the CONCACAF region. Traffic USA also participated in the ownership and management of the North American Soccer League ("NASL"), a division of United States men's club soccer sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federation, as well as the ownership and management of multiple clubs within the league. The NASL was headquartered in New York City and its teams were based in various cities in Canada and the United States, including in the Eastern District of New York. As further described below, Traffic USA was part of the Traffic Group, a multinational sports marketing conglomerate based in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The above is not a connection USSF would like to have. This investigation is far, far from done and Davidson is likely just the most sloppy at doing this type of work. All these guys will be singing over the next few weeks and a lot of dirty laundry will be aired. Best to just step back and get out of the way.

Oh, and pay your taxes. That's basically what this is all about.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

3rd Round, US Open Cup Summary

....[3rd Round Complete]...

- Richmond will host the Columbus Crew SC June 17th in the 4th round. Back in 2011 the Kickers beat Columbus at Crew Stadium in what is still one of my favorite games I've ever been to. Richmond looked good, as always, tonight. Will be a tough challenge for Crew SC.

- NASL having a very bad day. Not just with results against the USL but also with the Department of Justice probe into CONCACAF FIFA executives, one of which is / was with Traffic Sports, the marketing arm that helped get NASL going. 

- NY Cosmos and Atlanta Silverbacks advance but against amateur teams.

Refresh page to get latest results. [PRESS F5] if you are viewing on your desktop.

This map has general info (location, start time) about the matches.


FINAL: Ft. Lauderdale Strikers (2-3) Charleston Battery [link]
FINAL: NY Cosmos (3-0) Jersey Express [link]
FINAL: Jacksonville Armada (0-3) Richmond Kickers [link]
Saint Louis FC (1-1) Minnesota United FC [link]
FINAL: Atlanta Silverbacks (2-1) Chattanooga FC [link]
• Sacramento Republic (7-3) Chula Vista FC [link]
• FINAL: Real Monarchs (0-1) Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC [link]
FINAL: Pittsburgh Riverhounds (1-0) Tampa Bay Rowdies [link]
• FINAL: Seattle Sounders 2 (2-1) Portland Timbers 2 [link]
• Ventura County Fusion (1-2) PSA Elite [link]

[PRESS F5 to refresh page]

Current viewers (or observed max) of online streams (if available, put '1' if not):

Monday, May 25, 2015

Berhalter Results, Game by Game

Testing out a couple things here. Above should be an interactive chart that simply shows each Crew results since the beginning of 2014 (which is when Gregg Berhalter took over managing the team, 47 total games). If things are working correctly, you should be able to hover over and get the +/- of that game.

Not a whole lot of info in there, bare bones really for now. Building up to some better things. Chief among them, this Wednesday and the US Open Cup. Want to have some good interactive goodies there. Keep an eye out!

Here's a chart that shows distribution (below). It's a little confusing on the horizontal axis. That's not that Berhalter's team has won 6 games by +4, that's 6 games by +3.

13 Games: 0-0 Draw
8: +1
4: +2
6: +3

8: -1
7: -2
1: -3

Sunday, May 24, 2015

PODCAST: Red Cards in Helltown - Season 2, Episode 6

Host Rick Gethin and analyst Larry Johnson are back this week talking soccer and also MLS. It's a jam-packed hour this week as we cover as much as we can, as quick as we can. Along with our normal SoundCloud post you can now also find us on iTunes. Just search "Helltown Beer" to subscribe. Thanks for listening!

• "Our Open. Our ode. Our respect. Our homage to the armed forces."
• Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, catching up to date
• Who Crew SC may face
• NASL focus on the US Open Cup, motivated
• NASL = Apple, Microsoft = MLS (?)
• What's the prize? Something to play for
• Intensity between Columbus and Dayton years past
• Helltown will be posting up streams of Rd 3
• Red Cards in Helltown on iTunes
• 'Championship Sunday' in EPL, News, notes
• [Larry misplaces Rick's audio... LIVE!]
• A check on other leagues, Bundesliga call out

• "Most human problems can be solved by an appropriate charge of high explosives"
• Jumping back to the San Jose away result
• Convo on teams playing late (eastern)
• Berhalter audio
• Wil Trapp still out
• Berhalter hitting a wall? Overbearing disciplinarian?
• Halfway through 3 year Berhalter plan
• Mapfre with a booth at German Village yard sale... approved?

• "Market Garden"
• A couple minutes on Don Garber
• What's MLS doing to improve low TV ratings?
• TV ratings, Fox Sports 1, ESPN2
• A look at the MLS table
• Will Frank Lampard have impact this year, or no
• Might be too late for NYCFC's 1st season
• Seattle Sounders leading Supporters' Shield race

• " of those American Western Films"
• There is no "was" a Marine
• on the International Champions Cup in the USA
• MLS opens the door for this

This weekend we remember those who have served and paid the ultimate price for our freedoms. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

1st of 3 National TV Crew SC Games Sparks A Good Old Fashioned Blog Post

There is an oft-updated Google document sitting out there in my drive that explains why, after four (!?) years I've stopped doing pre and post game write ups about the Columbus Crew SC. It's gone from a simple 250 words all the way to 2500 word then back down again. I've come to the realization that it may never go up - so, long story short; MLS leans way too far towards "just a night out." Not only for fans, but everybody involved... save for a few groups. That's great for some fans but a bear to write about, especially when trying to sort it out as a competition.

Over the years I found, for me, that covering it daily is more akin to covering my neighbors commute to work. Sure, there can be something exciting happen a couple times a year but most of it will be a garage door not working or how the rain really slowed things down. I'm sure there a niche for that, like there is for MLS but Sports (competition) are meant to be the opposite of that, and honestly, I just don't see it much in most US sports these days. But I'll get to more on that though in a minute. Back to MLS for a second.

Here's a summarized grouping of people that take MLS casually and those that take is seriously I made during the Crew game last night in my little notebook:

- Fans sitting pitch side in lawn chairs
- Fake social media MLS accounts
- Whoever selected pregame walkout "kids" to go with the players
- Real MLS social media accounts
- Parents of youth teams that sell me $10 tix
- Local broadcasters across the country
- Players making not a whole lot annually
- A few, not all, in the Nordecke (not you, dear reader)
- My neighbor telling me about his commute during a game
- Assistant coaches
- The Crew last night after going up 2-0
- Refs
- National broadcasters

- "doers" in the Nordecke
- Critics of MLS (yes)
- Head Coaches (managers, TDs, GMs)
- Crew SC grounds Crew
- Federico Higuain, Kei Kamara, Josh Williams

A lot of this is cultural and I'm not pointing the finger at the casual groups here. It's not on them at all. It's up to the league and the USSF to fix it. Of the major sports (pro and college) MLS games are some of the lowest wattage affairs out there... hmm, how about another list.

Low Wattage to High Wattage Sports / Events in the USA:
(or; lowest focus on competitiveness to most)

- Playoff system, unbalanced scheduling, lazy and meandering summer schedule, lack of promotion, relegation, low wages, etc. I'm not going to get into listing things like college volleyball, soccer or even rec and "elite" league stuff at teen levels but were I to, they might fall about dead even with MLS. Even some things, like the Frozen Four, surpassing it.

- I'm separating out the regular season from the playoffs for obvious reasons. I would have even combined them on my lazy list here with the NBA were it not for the wacky point system they have now with overtimes and shootouts. I'm borderline dropping them lower than MLS regular season at this point.

- Like the NHL only there isn't any getting wrapped around the axle with shootouts. I believe the NBA will be the first league to break free from scheduling and structural norms soon. I've got a post that's been bouncing around in my head for a while about that and hope to have it up soon. The NBA's lottery system is broken and everybody knows it. They play too many games, talent is spread too thin and the quality suffers badly. BAD.

- With the cap structure, lottery, min and max contracts, 82 game regular season where teams travel all over the country... by the time the playoffs come it's more a battle of attrition.

Now, why would I list this out like this? Well, the first one of these leagues (college or pro) to tighten up their league and make games more meaningful while still engaging US fans will easily jump towards the top of this list.

The NBA for example. Tier the system. Top 20 is a nationwide league. Keep the cap, no player lottery (enter as free agents). The bottom division(s) are broken up into regions. MLB could fully split to East and West and promote in a team or two each year to spice it up. Hell, if nothing else to freshen it up. Get some of those AAA teams that are selling at 8 figures in the MLB. You'd also allow new up and coming cities (like Columbus) a chance at different pro sports. US is a ever changing landscape. Why lock in to some of these cities, especially with revenue shares and teams that are anchors for decades. Kick the tires and light the fires, USA, man! COME ON!


I struck out national broadcasters (ESPN2, UDN, FS1 this year) up in the top list because I know it's hard for them to capture the intensity of a sporting event when there isn't any. I've also pulled those guys out because of all the words I've written here and at Massive Report along with and spoken over at this site's Red Cards in Helltown podcast, as well as my time on 30 odd episodes of the Massive Report podcast. There's just not enough in these games and the overarching league that's interesting (that includes Don Garber's desparate attempts crisscrossing the country to potential expansion cities).

Is it possible this is a case of things just getting dull for me? I've thought a lot about that. Going through my thoughts on MLS over the past five years though, I gotta say, it's the structure of MLS's competition. It's dull. What keeps me watching, outside of loving the sport and the team is in my town, is the players. Their careers and their futures. Soccer is global and it's really cool to watch some guys bubble to the top, it's especially rewarding when you've followed them for years.

Which brings me back to the national broadcasters.

Last night was UDN's turn to travel to Columbus to cover the Crew SC v Chicago Fire matchup. UDN's Friday night coverage of this year's MLS games has gone well. The broadcast picture is clean and it's in both Spanish and English. Ramsés Sandoval handles the play-by-play and "goal heard round the world" former USMNT player Paul Caligiuri handles the color. They do alright. Sandoval comes off like a ring side boxing announcer or a coked up play-by-play MLB guy from the 80s but he's grown on me in the first 12 weeks. One of his quarks his losing his train of thought often. I'm not sure if it's a mostly wooden Caligiuri that causes it through their interchanges, language or what, but I've come to enjoy it. One thing I like about both of them is that they have a good understanding of how the match is going and are able to communicate it. Like; Columbus is controlling the match, passing well, or whatever ebb and flow it is taking and most importantly, they come across as enjoying what they are covering.


There's probably a ancient style guide for sports out there that demands US sports writers to list results as Win - Loss - Tie and it likely comes from Football (college football, more specifically) and Hockey (back in the 2 pts for a win, 1 for draw days). It probably indirectly also comes from the granddad of US sports; Baseball, were there was no such thing as ties, so the importance of it fell to third place in the other sports that had such a blasphemous result.

The old NASL is also partly to blame because they had no draws and that philosophy carried into MLS in the early years. It's difficult to go farther back to find how records were written in the old ASL or USA leagues and this post is getting long, man.

These days it's different though. Wikipedia, Opta, Stats Inc, almost all the betting sites, Sports Club Stats, and places like Soccerway,, Squawka all use Win - Draw - Loss for Major League Soccer results. In fact, just about the only place you will find W-L-D is on the MLS site itself! So, in conclusion... not trying to pick on Adam Jardy or pester Steve Sirk about nomenclature. Just a pet peeve that I'll never let go.

Anywho, old school Saturday morning blog post-ed out. It'd beautiful out. Everyone have a safe and fun Memorial Day weekend. We might not all agree on the hot button topics of the day but spare a few thoughts and maybe a quiet thank you to those that have paid the ultimate price so that we have that freedom work out all our disagreements.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

LIVE! US Open Cup, 2nd Rd

[UPDATE]: I was messing around with a few tools and things last night related to live updates and such for the US Open Cup. The 2nd round wrapped up last night and we saw five teams from 21 games upset teams at least one tier higher (USL) on the "US soccer pyramid" (that's in heavy quotes). NASL join next week in the 3rd round. I'm hoping to have something neat up here, live updates and comments and such, before we get to the MLS round on June 16-17.

Here are a couple games I tracked last night that I'll leave up (you can watch the replays). The Pittsburgh v West VA game is great for a couple reasons. One: I believe this is the first time a team from WVA has participated and, Two: The stadium in Pittsburgh is awesome. It will only get more awesome when some more professional TV crews start covering the games there.

Riverhounds won the match 3-0. If you want the goals they are in the 9th (Vincent), 10th (Moloto) and 87th (Kerr) minutes.

Pittsburgh Riverhounds vs. West Virginia Chaos

...another game to watch is the Wilmington v Chattanooga 1-1 tie. It went to penalties. The camera angles in this one resembled the Batman TV show in the 60s but you get use to it. I think this is a good representation of the good quality that can be found outside of MLS. I really, really wish these games would be played on grass more. Anyhow, Chattanooga (NPSL) won and moves on to play the Atlanta Silverbacks (NASL) next week in Chattanooga.

Wilmington Hammerheads v Chattanooga FC

I think this is the greatest tournament running in the US right now. You've got teams from everywhere. Grass fields, turf fields, full sided fields indoors, amateurs, pros, 200 fans to 30,000 fans a game and everything in between. It's great!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Quick Hit: UDN MLS Ratings

Source: Sports TV Ratings
Univision's MLS Friday night is moving though 2015 calendar right along side ESPN and Fox Sports 1 as part of the recently signed television package. So far I've tracked 9 game weeks and 13 games, which gives me a good feel for how things are going at UDN. Games are averaging 50k viewers a match (48k median).

Similar sports programming across all sports channels during this Friday night window average around 225k.

Modest numbers as far as the broader English speaking sports world goes but they are good for UDN, who has a smaller reach then some of the other sport stations on satellite and cable packages. While it's expected that Liga MX games should draw more (they do, + 10x more) it's important to not that there is an obvious trend upwards that I'm sure the marketers with both MLS and UDN should be happy to see (last weekend aside). Similar stories aren't being told over at Fox (good numbers on average but no trends either way and ESPN (nothing doing here yet, bad).

Sunday, May 17, 2015

World Cup '94 - The Future

Last year I came across a long lost video that previewed the 1994 World Cup that was to be hosted by the United States as well as launch a new domestic league. The video is VHS and it took me an afternoon to get it transferred into a digital format. Above is a poignant clip about that illustrates both how far behind the US was in the sport, as well as the massive ego the leaders of the sport had (and still have).
"In 1990 we competed in the World Cup for the first time in 40 years... In this World Cup I know that we will compete well. With pride and dignity. The next World Cup we will be competitive. And in the future, 2002 and beyond... It's ours. We have come to play and our boots are tied." - 1994, Hank Steinbrecher, Secretary General of the US Soccer Federation
Over the years (decades) the World Cup has become an odd measuring stick for the United States and the leaders of the sport therein. They seem to see it as the final frontier, of sorts. I'm sure that back in 1994 when Mr. Steinbrecher said that "2002 and beyond, it's ours," he really meant it. And it seams he's made a career of selling that type of message.

After my day of trying to digitize VHS video and put together this post, I looked Steinbrecher up to try and get a read on what he is doing and found a good piece from a couple years ago over at US Soccer Players where it seems he's learned the world is a big place and maybe, 21 years after saying "2002 and beyond, it's ours," he's altered his expectations a bit“ - 
To me it is to be in a position to win," he said. "You could ask some 200 other countries that same question. The real question is how did we play? Did the team represent the Nation well? I am proud of our players, proud of our coaches, proud of our fans and proud of our Federation."
I'm still digesting the preview tape. It's great. It touches on the history of the tournament as well as a few interviews with famous players. On the US side though, it all sounds very "best league in 2022" type stuff. It even covers how soccer is 2nd most popular sport in regards to youth. The video is only about 45 minutes long but it's a nice snapshot of where the US was before MLS got going. I've got it all digitized now and I'm hoping to get more up soon. Maybe.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

US Open Cup, Americana

The 2015 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup started in earnest last night. Each year we are seeing the availability of the games in the early rounds grow - and right along side is my hunger for early round games. There is something overwhelmingly American about the US Open Cup. Everybody in. Everybody has a chance. Nowhere else in US sports does this exist. I tend to think of this as more the future and not a forgotten relic of the past. A living, breathing Unicorn.

Last night I found myself jumping between a games played indoors in Pontiac, Michigan, to Chattanooga, Tennessee. New Jersey. Ventura County. Western Massachusetts, Reading, Pennsylvania. Each venue offered window into the heart and soul of, not just soccer in this country, but of the United States herself. Combine that with the very nature of the event and you have my favorite goddamn event of the year.

2nd Round kicks off May 20th. Recently affiliated-with-MLS (trying-to-set-up-minor-league-but-over-my-dead-body) teams from United Soccer League join the party. A week after that (May 27th) is when the NASL jumps in before MLS tries to crash the party.

Wiki keeps good track of all the results. Last year Columbus faced the Indy Eleven in Akron, in what was my favorite match of the year. These games actually matter. They are awesome. Did I mention this is my favorite thing? It is. Get in on it before Adam Silver and the NBA do their own version and destroy all the fun.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Sunday's MLS ESPN2 TV Rating (low)

Sunday's Toronto FC vs Houston Dynamo match at newly renovated BMO Field didn't bring many eyes to the TV. The 177k that watched the match up was one of the lowest rated ESPN2 MLS games of the year for the network.

The chart above maps out the entire day of Sunday, May 10th, 2015. Both the lead in programming (Billiards) and post programming (Poker) beat out the game. It's a similar story to other Sundays this year. I'm trying to figure why it looks like watchers of the channel actually tune out for MLS before tuning back in for different programming. There are some out there that say other events like NHL and NBA playoffs pull away viewers but if that's the case, wouldn't they hurt Billiards and Poker as well? Maybe it's that MLS has chosen the wrong teams? We are still early days for MLS on ESPN on Sunday's but can't help but think that the league marketers are happy with this one. 

Games on both ESPN2 and FS1 are averaging around 230k viewers a game on Sunday afternoon and evening. 

Sunday was also Major League Soccer's premier event; The "NY Derby" (or Hudson River Derby or my personal favorite El Plastico) over on FS1 averaged 233k. A disappointing number for league executives considering the hype and market size, I'm sure.

"Monster Jam" (370k) and the USWNT vs Ireland (319k) were FS1's highest rated shows on Sunday.

(source: Sports TV Ratings)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

PODCAST: Red Cards in Helltown: Season 2, Episode 5

Off the IR and ready-to-go host Rick Gethin is joined by analyst Larry Johnson for the latest RCiH episode. This week, as every week, it's one hour straight on the mic. No bathroom breaks. No mercy. No horseshit.

• Happy (soccer mom) Mother's Day
• 10 year anniversary of Glazer Manchester United ownership
• New (-ish) money in English soccer [link]
• Premier League is this separate thing
• Values skyrocketing
• EPL has global jump on NFL, NBA, etc
• Helltown calling US to boycott World Cup

• Game vs Sounders, 3-2 win, recap
• What went right, what went wrong
• Players have to figure it out on their own
• Crew adapted to Seattle style
• Marshall really wanted a goal
• Rundown on the stats
• Sooo many on target
• Berhalter audio 1, "strange game"
• Win never felt secure
• Audio 2, "playing together more"
• No Grana? Hector Jimenez good game
• Berhalter's even tempered approach
• Audio 3, Berhalter praises players
• Who are Crew core
• San Jose and their CRUMMY weather up next week
• some Time Warner bashing
• Crew SC friendly against Valencia CF

• Women's World Cup, thoughts on artificial turf
• Not enough money, international tournaments are to make bank
• The end of a golden generation, popularity
• Jurgen Klinsmann conversation, what has he brought?
• Who's taking the place of the Donovan / Dempsey generation
• ... Gall
• Brek Shea and not thinking about soccer

• Rick's off the IR
• Is MLS still playing in stadiums too big?
• Announced attendance and actual butts in seats
• Crew SC attendance finally "hit"

So, Like, Seriously, Berhalter, Totally Bitch'n!!

Mr. Precourt, you totally need to sign your coach to a ten year deal. Like, totally ten years. Gregg's, like, so extremely the best coach in the, ehmagawd, the whole United States.

Oh, Mm, Gee! Did you see, like, the bitch'n players he signed last year and the off season? Like, totally, Pogatetz! Seriously, Kamara!? Bitch'n, Saeid!! You must be totally kidding, Francis?!

And, like, style. Seriously, attack. Bitch'n possession and unleashing the hawtest Major League Franchise Players in Meram and Finlay.

So, like, Mr. Precourt, make Mr. Berhalter an offer he can't refuse. Wink, wink. And, totally, seriously, don't let Sunil Gulati anywhere near our bitch'n coach.   


Friday, May 8, 2015

Montreal, MLS, Duka and CCL

A little while back I posted up some thoughts on the Montreal Impact and their CCL run / Final over at Massive Report. I'm late linking to it from here because I wanted to get some more thoughts down about it after I simmered down (but I haven't!).

1. It might not seem like it now but down the road I think it's a big deal that they made it as far as they did. What people forget (or don't bother looking up) is that the current make up of the CONCACAF Champions League is less than 8 years old. A team from the US or Canada have never won it but two have made the finals. For me, that's a huge achievement. Not because MLS is the plucky start-up that's facing the mountains of Liga MX money. It's because of MLS. All the damn roster rules and convoluted scheduling, lack of meaningful games, etc etc.

2. MLS bastardizing their own regular season to lighten Montreal's load (also devalues CCL). The general consensus is that MLS schedule holds MLS teams back in the CCL but in reality there are also many positives. While MLS teams aren't at their best during the early knockout stages of the tournament, they are at their best in the group stage (mid summer / fall) and final stages (early spring). MLS can schedule around the CCL in the spring (which they did for all participants) and, in a wrinkle this year, they ended up giving Montreal the ENTIRE MONTH of April off. This doesn't happen with Liga MX clubs (or other leagues in CONCACAF). In fact, America was playing a huge rivalry game with Chivas right in the middle of the final legs with the Impact. MLS blowing up their own schedule to make way combined with all the summer friendlies (Columbus Crew SC just announced one with Valencia) devalues the regular season to the point of exhibition (or even lower). It also hurts the reputation of the CCL itself.

3. Money and Talent. Let's get a common misconception out of the way right now: MLS carries the largest individual player contracts in both North and South America. It's been this way for a few years now and only grown since the league has over spent on USMNT players. But structure, again, rears it's head here in that teams are so hamstrung by roster rules on how to spend. Designated Player rules are the main culprit. Not only do many teams fill those slots with aging stars who can't compete with all the travel or play twice a week, you have such a large % of the cap eaten up and have to surround them with above average college players. Where Liga MX clubs have the advantage is exactly here. They have deeper rosters with better players. As a matter of fact, America was having to use this depth. Can you imagine Montreal having to dig down past their normal 18-20? Or even if they had to face a full strength Club America? Actually, I can. We saw a full strength Cruz Azul absolutely embarrass Sporting KC last year.

4. Former Crew guys Dilly Duka and Dom Oduro played huge roles on a Montreal team where most of the players have less than 5 games together. You see the comment about the Impact being a last place team, and they are, but they have a total of 4 games played so far in MLS. Pointing to last year doesn't work either. It's a completely different team this year.

Anyhow. I think I've gotten most of this CCL stuff off my chest. I like the competition a lot, and think it will eventually overtake things like the Gold Cup in popularity, but unless MLS changes things in their foundation (no, not blowing up their schedule or signing players for one game) they will always be on the outside looking in on this.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Updated MLS Facts, Figures... Rules (finally)

The Montreal Impact haven't reached that all important fifth game yet for me but I'm going to go ahead and start updating my facts, stats and figures for the 2015 MLS season.

Since 2011 I've been tracking a handful of important stats over on the right hand column of this site (desktop version). They are updated about once a week. This is the first time I'm updating them for 2015, so here are some notes on the season thus far:

• This year marks the 5th anniversary of my Helltown Player scores
• 24% of the MLS season is complete (81 of 340 games)
• Games are averaging 2.27 goals, still a little low
• Penalty goals low (5.4%) - correction from last year perhaps
• After 8 games Crew SC are in a familiar mid-table spot (9th)
• Crew SC goals way up 3rd in GF, 2nd in GD... 9th in GA
• Defense rules this year, 16 teams allowing under 1.34 goals per game


We have a lot more information of which to evaluate players in different positions these days but this is always a fun one to keep an eye on. In a league like MLS where any given week can see games SIX games apart in games played you have to use metrics. Aggregate does you absolutely no good.

Goals and Assists (sans penalties) per 90 minutes played is a great way to get at how is contributing on the offensive side of the ball. My "mile markers" though out the year are 450 minutes played (five 90 minute games) and 900 minutes (10 games). The figures below are players with a minimum of 450 minutes.

Goals + Assist / 90s
1.03 - Sebastian Giovinco (TFC) $New
1.01 - Fabian Castillo (DAL) $76,250
0.92 - Javier Morales (RSL) $300,000
0.90 - Kei Kamara (CREW) $New
0.86 - Blas Pérez (DAL) $359,250
0.83 - Obafemi Martins (SEA) $1,753,333
0.80 - Justin Meram (CREW) $91,827
0.69 - Ethan Finlay (CREW) $65,847
0.67 - Harrison Shipp (CHI) $95,000
0.65 - Dillon Powers (COL) $127,650
0.63 - Benny Feilhaber (KC) $337,187
0.63 - Giles Barnes (HOU) $241,158
0.60 - Octavio Rivero (VAN) $New

Highlighted yellow are Crew players. They are starting out where they left off last year. Took a while for Finlay to get a goal but his contributions were coming via assist (Kamara being the beneficiary). The wages are from 2014. Most of these names are familiar. I am expecting measurable pay increases for Castillo and Finlay. Shipp may jump into Powers land.

If you are unfamiliar with this stat, in MLS is goes:

>0.80 = Need to be playing in a better league (unless old)
>0.60 = Very good attacking player
>0.30 = Replacement level attacking player in MLS
>0.29 = Not an attacking player in MLS


Here are league leaders in a two basic categories I find important to success in MLS. They take a lot of heat from pundits during games (for that particular game) but if you look at them over time... :

1. Possession
Possessing the ball well in one game or two doesn't tell you much. But doing it over the course of a season? It's huge. Opta tracks possession as number of passes, not actual stop watch time of possession. Making more passes means you can, well, pass good and trap good and shield the ball well and make better decisions...

57.2 : New York Red Bulls
53.9 : Columbus Crew SC
53.9 : New York City FC

2. Shots on Target per Game
Gotta get the ball on frame for it to go in. It's a constant argument in my head on the importance of this stat. Over the years I've observed that teams that score more than one ever four shots finishes towards the top. The more you get, the more goals you have. It's like keepers have a secret society where it's written that they have to let 1 in 4 go by.

5.3 shots per game: NY Red Bulls
5.1 : Seattle Sounders
4.9 : DC United
4.8 : Columbus Crew SC


It looks like The Castrol Index is taking the year off from Major League Soccer which takes the number of league player raters down to just three. Me, Squawka and In the past I've used fantasy soccer scores to add some color to ratings but, well, we'll see this year.

Crew SC off to a strong start ratings wise again this year with two players in my top 20 right now in Kei Kamara (3rd overall) and Ethan Finlay (20th). Steve Clark, Michael Parkhurst and Emanuel Pogatetz are also in the Helltown top 25%

Over at Squawka I see that there rating system loves the Crew. Kamara, Tchani, Meram, Clark, Parkhurst and Pogatetz all in the top 10% of all players. WhoScored likes Kamara, Tchani and Meram.

With that, I decided to to a quick rating combining all three systems. This is the type of analysis I would use if I wanted to get to issues quickly. Time is always short and this moves aside players like Kamara, Tchani, Meram, Finlay and the center backs. It puts them in a "good" bucket to evaluate later. Guys like Saeid, Klute, Steindorsson and even Higuain and Francis are guys that I'd be asking questions about.

Since this list includes all players with regular season minutes you want your guys falling in the top half. Anyone around the middle group and below are ones that I would do a deep dive in to.

Here is how this works:

100 pts : Top 10% of players
75 pts : Top quarter of all players
50 pts : Top half of all players
0 pts : Bottom half of all players


The league finally posted their rules and regulations. As mentioned above, a quarter of the season gone. This is the way of MLS still, after 20 years, unfortunately. The little things are what this league kills you with and the can't even get their own details figured out. How much time does the league spend on this? Unnecessary.

More rules this year but as always I keep a copy of the basic roster rules housed here at Helltown under PAGES.

All I've got for now.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Battle for the Soul of North American Soccer

No tall tale this…

The sport known as soccer in the United States, known as futbol in more lands than not, identical to the version played in more lands than not, resides deeply inside the wickedly honest hearts, the wide open eyes and minds, and the passionate souls of each and every one of the millions of two legged mammals, male and female, young and old, who have devoured the bittersweet exhilaration of simple ball, grass, concrete, sand and like-minded companion.

But there is a plague upon our indigent joy. Dark and powerful forces, flush with soulless mammon, are dizzyingly busy convincing all who listen without reason, and all who would butcher their very essence in order to sell bloody pieces to the rancid plague, that the millions should set aside their honest hearts and passionate souls for a version of our love twisted to enrich the malicious misguided few.
We must set our bare feet firmly in the fields of our dreams and bring the misguided souls back to the creative conscious which spatters the green canvasses of Sunday afternoons with near perfect touch, motion and emotion.

These whispering few, safe behind thick walls, counting future riches, deserve honest praise for honest work. Yet their counting is the result of our soul’s passion.

We must insist they see each and every one of the millions of like-minded companions as different but equal.
For too long, too many, far too many, of those who have danced along the beach or green field, have seen the folly of the few lost and lonely souls. But slowly the many are seduced by the few.

The climax of the seduction is empty. Like the snake oil salesman on the corner, screaming for attention, selling promises which will never come true, the climax is manipulated, hyped, a mass marketed haze of nothing, our soul passing through without touching.
Soccer, futbol, is our sport. Give the few their due and then insist, without compromise, that the millions creating the dream have the opportunity to be part of any and all of the dream.