Sunday, December 18, 2016

MLS Managers - Company Men

A very strange and unusual thing happened once the final whistle blew on the 2016 MLS season. Did you notice? None of the coaches were fired. Nor were any fired at the end of the regular season. In fact, there were only three coaching changes all year.

MLS is a unique animal. The ins and outs of the rules just about make it necessary to have a company guy in charge and the insular nature of the league makes being a team player a job requirement. Digging into the professional histories of the each coach, there is nothing that tells us any different.

The only current coach to not have any experience with the league before being put in charge is Patrick Vieira. This, in and of itself, might not be terribly atypical of other leagues, but it does highlight something else. He, along with Gregg Berhalter and Veljko Paunovic are the only three to have any coaching experience outside MLS at all.

Totaled up, it's 166 years of coaching in MLS vs. just 8 years experience out of it.

There are three characteristics that define an MLS coach.

1. Former MLS player (15/20)
2. Born in the United States (14/20)
3. Be a former USMNT player (10/20)

These three things add up to what you call "Team Players." They are guys that will work within the system and play nice with corporate leadership.

It is striking that so many coaches have long time ties to the league, but is it that different to other leagues? Looking for answers it's better to turn to Liga MX than, say, the English Premier League (which might as well be from another planet than MLS). Do they meet the three criteria mentioned above?

1. Former Liga MX player (12/18)
2. Born in Mexico (7/18)
3. Former Mexican National Team Player (3/18)

Number one matches up but the others are different. Particularly, the national team experience. Interesting there because MLS and US Soccer Federation are so close.

There are a few other difference as well. The biggest being the range of ages and management experience. 13 of the 18 in Liga MX have been managing for over ten years, while only three in MLS have. All together it's Liga MX 256 years of management experience and MLS 140. Almost double.

Incredible differences between the two leagues. "MLS is young," you might say. First. It's not. And second, soccer has been played in this country for over 100 years. MLS is just picking MLS people.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Parkhurst moves on

It has been a while in the making, but Gregg Berhalter's voice on the pitch is officially moving on.

Not taking care of Michael Parkhurst this past summer doomed the already shaken 2016 Columbus Crew SC. Back in July, months after the Federico Higuain / Kei Kamara fiasco, Parkhurst did a very, very rare thing and spoke to the local media about his contract situation. He sounded unsettled, well, as much as he can sound that way.

For a league where the margin between good and bad is razor thin (re: MLS Cup last night) anything like not having your team captain locked up for the future is a punch in the gut.

The worst part about the situation is that Berhalter didn't tell Parkhurst either way. He just left him hanging (I'm speaking of back in July). It's impossible to say whether he would have played better had he known he was going to leave, but I'm confident that he would have played better.

The concern here for Crew SC going forward is the leadership role. There are not many Parkhurst-like players out there. Even fewer that fit so well with Berhalter's temperament (I wrote recently on this). Wil Trapp is the obvious person next in line, but they should think long and hard about that one.

As things stand right now, this is the single biggest problem the team has.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

MLS Cup Returns to Broadcast TV

The last time the MLS Cup was on an over-the-air network the Columbus Crew beat the NY Red Bulls. At the time it was on ABC and pulled 900k viewers, which matched a league the low in 2003. From there the game (at least for the English-speaking world) moved over to ESPN, where it has been ever since.

This year the game moves over to Fox per terms of the new TV deal that was signed before the start of last year.

After a strong start on ESPN in 2009 where ratings jumped back up over one-million viewers, ratings of the event have been slipping downward ever since. No doubt the switch to Fox will help get viewership back on the plus side of one million, but that doesn't mean there won't be some sweaty palms in MLS suites tonight. Anything less than that figure will bring a lot of public criticism and likely have both Fox and ESPN asking questions as to what is going on with the league.

MLS numbers across all English-speaking networks are down 15-20% this year over last. Based on what Fox normally shows on Saturday evenings, it's tough to say what the hell will happen tonight. This is uncharted territory. Fox did float a MLS game earlier this year and it pulled close to a million, but that was during a normal NFL window. It's entirely possible TV's just park on that station all Sunday out of habit.

Fox Saturday nights are a mixed bag of evening news, auto racing, college athletics and so on. That said, MLS is not a normal event on the network. People could watch out of curiosity or just skip it over altogether. Again, sweaty Don Garber palms.

What we do know is that it won't be pulling College Football numbers or even those of NASCAR. It'll be in the one million range, I suspect - and MLS and SUM will put as much spin behind it is possible.