Friday, December 15, 2017

2017 MLS Best XI

2017 Helltown Beer MLS Player of the Year

Still using the same rating system since 2011. This is a regular season award. The playoffs in MLS are too wonky to measure.

Past Winners:
2016: Bradley Wright-Phillips
2015: Bradley Wright-Phillips
2014: Robbie Keane
2013: Darlington Nagbe
2012: Chris Wondolowski
2011: Todd Dunivant

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Silence and Roar

The Columbus Crew slipped past Atlanta United last week in the opening knockout game of the 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs. Next up for the team is a home / away matchup against NYCFC tonight.

No question that this is a different type of midweek playoff matchup for Columbus. The game has become a take a stand, of sorts, for fans of the team who are trying to keep the Crew in town. With few other options to keep them here, the solution has become to prove to investor/operator Anthony Precourt that there is support for the team in town by getting as many people as possible to the game.

Precourt and Don Garber have stated that Columbus trails the rest of the league in many key business metrics. It's not a revelation to any longtime fans of the team, but for the first time it is being used as one of the reasons to move the team to Austin, Texas for a fresh start instead of putting it up for sale (which is how Precourt jumped into MLS in the first place).

For Precourt and MLS it's about improving the overall health of the league. It's the American way in regards to professional sports leagues. Team movements happen fairly often in the top four in the US (at least a dozen in the last 20 years). While it has only happened once in MLS, league followers will note that practically every team has gone through a number of rebrands and restarts in the effort to re-energize fledgling metrics.

This word: Metrics. It's become a rallying cry for Crew support. As it should. It's impossible to measure the heart of one fan, let alone hundreds. This fact strikes the soul of any fan of any team. With this in mind, fans have decided to prove that there is a market to be had here in Columbus by selling out a traditionally sparsely attended midweek match. To an outsider, this may seem counter-intuitive. Why give the investor of a team on the move more money as he skips town. But to a fan of the team, it makes sense. A show of force with feet. To prove the bad guys wrong.

The fact of the matter is that Columbus does leave a lot to be desired in terms of support for the team over the years. You can draw this back all the way to the 2008 MLS Cup and its aftermath. For reasons only known to the Hunt family, the Cup win was not capitalized on. The head coach left and the next season things became business as usual with the belief that a trophy might magically bring in more fans without any effort to bring them in.

Support did not show up, and by the time 2010 rolled around you had the team burning the contracts of very good and well-liked players. "Money-balling" it, as it was called back then. That drastic and abrupt change brought in thoughts that the team might be for sale and that the Hunts, after the death of the family patriarch now a few years on, were looking to scale down to just a couple pro teams (Kansas City Chiefs of the NFL and FC Dallas of MLS).

Turns out those gut feelings were correct. The team was on the market and was sold in 2013. One can ask the question of whether or not that damaged support for the team in the years between 2009 to the time it finally found a new investor willing to take it over. Anyone going to games in those years will tell you that the stadium was barely half full and the buzz around town was just not there.

Looking at it this way might make it seem like Precourt and company had a mountain to climb in terms of regaining solid local interest in the team. They launched a successful rebrand off the pitch and made it to the MLS Cup final on top of that. Two very successful events. When 2016 rolled around, crowds were better and sellouts increased. But for them, something was missing. It wasn't enough. Was it a new stadium? Is it just that Precourt doesn't like Columbus? Or is he wanting to start from scratch with a new group of fans and business leaders?

Precourt has been nearly silent save for a couple passive aggressive tweets. One would like to think that it is the loud roar from Crew fans that have him holding his tongue and waiting it out, but as we have seen with recent relocation of Stan Kroenke's St. Louis Rams of the NFL - silence is golden.

Because of the singular nature of MLS and it's business structure - Columbus Crew fans face a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation in regards to the rest of this season and next. For tonight's game, they have chosen the former.

Monday, October 23, 2017

What Would Be A Better Soccer League?

By: Vidda Grubin

Serious question: Is this soccer league better?

Set up and criteria: 15,000 seat minimum stadiums, natural grass only. Mandatory 51%  ownership of each club by club members/fans. Promotion and relegation written into league constitution. Pro/Rel to begin 10 years after the establishment of League A first division, plus 16 viable teams, within league boundaries, meeting all criteria, competing in a second division.

Play each team home and away for total of 30 games. Mid August--Christmas, 16 games. Mid February--end of May, 14 games. First two weeks of August played in Northern Tier cities. First two weeks of February played in Southern Tier cities. Once pro/rel starts, two teams relegated, last place automatically, next to last in home and away playoff with second place in lower league.

Initial League A, First Division:

Southern Tier---Charlotte, NC, Knoxville, TN, Nashville, TN, Memphis, TN, Charleston, WV, Louisville, KY, St. Louis, MO, Cincinnati, OH.

Northern Tier---Milwaukee, WI, Chicago, IL, Indianapolis, IN, Grand Rapids, MI, Detroit, MI, Columbus, OH, Pittsburgh, PA, Cleveland, OH.

Or, is this soccer league better?


Each of the cities in the mythical League A is unique: Music, Great Lakes, Mountains, Beer and Spirits, Rivers, Forests, Art, Etc. While these cities each occupy a distinctive locale, they are close enough to create multiple rivalries and see large groups of traveling away fans.

As soccer fans in Columbus continue to agonize over the possible/probable loss of their Columbus Crew franchise, there is, I think, a better option, a much better option lurking in the millions of soccer fans living in the United States' Heartland. It's a better option for the fans, it's a better option for the players, it's a better option for the cities and it's a better option of the local economies and businesses.

Only a small fraction of the cities listed above will have a chance at being granted an MLS franchise, and each city's franchise will be little more than the fly-by-night, possibly gone tomorrow, carpetbagger, MLS owned carnival we see today. The National Football League is no different. Current top league professional sports in the United States is no different.

Many people talk about the area encompassing the cities above as "fly-over" territory. This could not be farther from the truth. Look at population statistics. Tens of millions of people live and work in this area. True flyover country begins west of St. Louis.

Ultimately, a league like this, in this geographic area, could easily accommodate three divisions of 16 teams. The proposed league will probably never happen, but damn, it would be frick'n awesome. 

Images, Video: Save the Crew Rally

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Solution???

By: Vidda Grubin

Sure, there are people with lots of money in Columbus. Sure, maybe some of them are soccer fans. Sure, maybe those few people have tried/are trying to rip the Columbus Crew franchise out of Anthony Precourt's possession. But, why wait and hope someone else foots the bill?

The real solution is fan ownership. Do you know how Ohio Stadium came into being? Public funding, not tax dollars, private citizens pledging almost a million dollars in mostly small amounts.

Anthony Precourt, reportedly, paid $68 million for the Crew franchise. A fair return on his money would be a purchase price near $100 million.

There are approximately 20,000 seats in Mapfre stadium.

20,000 X $5,000 = $100,000,000

Want to get more people involved and get the ball rolling on a new stadium.

40,000 X $5,000 = $200,000,000

The Packers are fan owned. Some clubs in Europe are fan owned. Buy the team. Go find out how those entities function. Now the team is truly yours. No matter what league/division in which the Crew find themselves, they are The Columbus Crew.

No more business owner looking to move a franchise when the going gets rough or the whimsy of a new city strikes his fancy.

Make it happen, and support other cities/soccer fans in their push to bring the beautiful game to their own home towns. Stop parroting the talking points of the wealthy, you are not wealthy. You are fans of the beautiful game. The beautiful game is not wealthy, it's just...beautiful. And beauty knows no dollar amount.

P.S. (If Precourt moves the team, Columbus should have the right to an expansion franchise without franchise fee. Maybe this is the plan? Why would you move Columbus with the possibility of Cincinnati joining soon? Suddenly the league has another true rivalry on their hands, driving both teams' attendance and fan base)

Really??? Columbus Crew Fans, You're Angry???

By: Vidda Grubin

Really??? Columbus Crew Fans, You’re Angry???

In 1996 (Truthfully 1994) Lamar Hunt brought Major League Soccer to Columbus, Ohio. Interestingly, very few Columbus soccer fans said, “Why?”

That simple question, “Why?” why did Lamar Hunt choose Columbus, is the magnifying lens screaming down at the once sleepy, moderately sized town with 1000X power. The minutiae in the petri dish known as Columbus, C-Bus, The Heart of Ohio, Funky C (okay, I made that one up), under the awesome strength of the “Why?” lens, becomes ants the size of the Leveque Tower, dust particles bigger than Nationwide Insurance headquarters and Les Wexner taller than, well, Les Wexner.

That minutiae consists of many things, perhaps most importantly, Columbus’ role as the capital of Ohio, a few Fortune 500 companies, tOhio State University, the popularity of soccer in Ohio, the cost of living and doing business in Columbus and the former lack of major professional sports franchises in Columbus. Those and other bits of Columbus in the early 90’s peaked Lamar Hunt’s interest when he was searching the United States of America for a few towns to call home to his multiple Major League Soccer franchises. And each of those tiny bits, magnified 1000X, tells the story of “Why?”

The simple (and it is quite simple) story of “Why?” is a tragic comedy, whose ending is sardonic laughter beginning deep within the bowels of Columbus business elites, tOSU and Major League Soccer’s billionaire owners. For years the laughter rumbled and bubbled inside their intestines’, gurgled and burned upward through their esophagus’ and then exploded like so much Saturday night beer and tacos over the entirety of Columbus Crew loving fandom on October 17, 2017.

Like most stories in tUSA, this one begins with a bunch of men giving away land to which they perceived themselves entitled. Columbus and tOSU became places on a map. Much agriculture, buggy and beer making later and presto! 1996 Columbus, Ohio.

Lamar Hunt peered in on Columbus and saw steady growth, few valleys and mountains on the economic graph representing the “Bus” and a safe place to hide an asset until it matured and flourished or needed to be picked-up and ceremoniously moved to the next stop on the modern version of yesterday’s carnivals, American Professional Sports.

Some of the minutiae in Funky C wanted to stay minutiae. tOSU said “You can use our stadium, for a hefty fee, but don’t be loud and obnoxious, know your place and, mostly, pretend we don’t exist. Deal?” Lamar smiled and signed on the dotted line. He had plans, plans that could yield some ripe fruit or be dug-up in the future and transplanted elsewhere.

Business and money in Columbus was skeptical. Soccer?

Though unsure, some were willing to step under the magnifying glass, it was, although soccer, professional sports. Never underestimate the ego. The ego wants what the ego wants. But business and money in Columbus was only willing to take on a tiny fraction of ownership of the fledgling soccer franchise and league. There would be no real “takers” amongst the native Columbus money elites.

For those who started and put millions into the business, the first sixteen years of the carnival known as Major League Soccer was a battle of epic proportions. Failed franchises and an almost failed league later, Lamar Hunt and others enlisted the millions of soccer fans in tUSA and survived the war triumphant. Alas, Lamar would not see his league thrive, having passed away December 14, 2006. RIP, sir, you were a visionary among the timid.

When Lamar Hunt’s sons decided to sell the Columbus franchise in 2013, the only taker at a reasonable price was Anthony Precourt’s, Precourt Sports Ventures LLC of California. The selling price, reportedly, 68 million dollars, stadium included. That magnifying glass was all powerful in 2013.

Why in the world were there no local business and money elites willing to buy the Crew franchise? The league was finally on relatively solid footing. Columbus was in the midst of a boom likely to continue for years to come, and a professional soccer franchise catering to the tens of thousands of local soccer fans and the tens of thousands of possible transplant soccer fans in the 25-45 demographic seemed to be a no-brainer.

The simple answer, Columbus is still the Columbus of fifty years ago. Quiet houses, dinners out, maybe a show and The Ohio State University and its athletics. The powers that be in Columbus, the money and political elites never gave a damn about soccer or the Columbus Crew. It was easy keeping the whole black and gold thing at arms-length, no risk and young people be damned. In the minds of those who own Columbus, this thought: “Eventually, all those kids will do exactly what I do, go to dinner, talk about tOSU, and mow their lawns on Sunday. We don’t need soccer.”

So, Really??? Columbus Crew Fans, You’re Angry???

A business, that is solely in the business of making money, with franchises just like McDonalds, decided to move a franchise to a different location, while the local people with money and power never in 20+ years showed any interest in the franchise.

And you are surprised and upset. Really???

Monday, September 18, 2017

MLS Table Tree

Projected Points at season end, based on current PPG -- Team

73 -- Toronto FC
60 -- New York City FC
56 -- Chicago
55 -- Vancouver
54 -- Atlanta
53 -- Sporting KC
52 -- Seattle
51 -- New York
50 -- Portland -- Columbus
46 -- Houston -- FC Dallas -- San Jose
44 -- Montreal
43 -- Real Salt Lake
41 -- New England -- Orlando City SC
39 -- Philadelphia
35 -- Minnesota
33 -- D.C. -- Los Angeles
30 -- Colorado

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

USMNT: Ceiling and Floor are Falling

Jurgen Klinsmann did a good job at making Americans believe that there was a deep pool of US eligible players of which to pull. When he started he had players like Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Mix Diskerud and Tim Howard still playing in top leagues.

The key phrase there is "when he started." That all changed in the lead up to the 2014 World Cup when MLS, almost as a response to Klinsmann's urging of players to go to Europe, brought them all back. In the back of our collective minds, many of us thought that there would be other players to back fill the work that those players were doing at the highest levels. There always had been. Claudio Reyna, Brian McBride, Frankie Hejduk, Ernie Stewart, Brad Friedel and Crew SC's own Gregg Berhalter (to name a few). There was a pipeline there, so to speak.

Because of that pipeline, the US had a decent height to the ceiling. Meaning, it was widely regarded that players training and pushing in better leagues are, well, better players. That has changed, however. The events by MLS/SUM starting in 2013 to bring back players is turning out to have a titanic impact on US players in Europe.

The table below is a quick overview of who the US currently has playing in leagues scattered across the pond. Since I am not close to most of these leagues outside of the EPL (and to a smaller degree, Bundesliga) I decided to whip up a quick point system based on the header categories below.

Points >>322
PtsPlayerLeagueClubAge, PositionMins% Pos MinsGAMotMRating
9Bobby WoodBundesligaHamburger SV24, FW26799%117.07
9Christian PulisicBundesligaBorussia Dortmund18, M(CLR)26699%117.50
8Timothy ChandlerBundesligaEintracht Frankfurt27, D(R),M(R)270100%17.20
8Mix DiskerudSwedenIFK Göteborg26, M(CR)187194%3337.00
7Brendan Hines IkeSwedenÖrebro22, D(C)189095%116.84
6Geoff CameronEPLStoke City32, D(CLR),DMC29582%6.00
5Tim ReamChampFulham29, D(CL),DMC540100%6.71
5Josh WicksSwedenSirius33, GK1980100%26.00
5Alfredo MoralesBundesliga IIIngolstadt27, M(C)27060%7.00
4Jerome KiesewetterBundesliga IIFortuna Düsseldorf24, AM(R)16436%6.92
4Lynden GoochEPLSunderland21, Forward6318%6.11
4Danny WilliamsEPLHuddersfield Town28, M(C)6217%6.20
4Weston McKennieBundesligaSchalke 0419, Midfielder259%6.00
4Andrew WootenBundesliga IISandhausen27, AM(R),FW307%17.21
4Fabian JohnsonBundesligaBorussia M'gladbach29, D(LR),M(CLR)104%5.00
4Aron JóhannssonBundesligaWerder Bremen26, FW31%5.00
3Matt MiazgaEredivisieVitesse22, D(C)15042%6.00
3Romain GallSwedenGIF Sundsvall22, Midfielder80341%6.00
3Alex HorwathNorwayBrann30, GK36019%6.80
3E. HyndmanEPLAFC Bournemouth00%
3K. ScottEPLChelsea00%
3D. YedlinEPLNewcastle United00%
3C. Carter VickersEPLSheffield United00%
3B. ScottBundesligaKöln00%
3C. StankoBundesligaFreiburg00%
3J. BrooksBundesligaWolfsburg00%
2Julian GreenBundesliga IIGreuther Fürth22, AM(L)9020%6.4
2Terrence BoydBundesliga IIDarmstadt 9826, FW5913%6
2Eric LichajChampNottingham Forest28, D(LR),M(LR)132%6.11
2Rubio RubinNorwayStabæk21, AM(C),FW10%6
1H. WrightBundesliga IISandhausen00%
1S. AntonijevicNorwayLillestrøm00%
1J. KlinsmannGermanyHertha BSC00%
1D. PayneEredivisieExcelsior00%
1S. O'NeillEredivisieExcelsior00%
1L. de la TorreChampFulham00%
1M. CorbozBundesliga IIMSV Duisburg00%
1M. GainesBundesliga IIDarmstadt 9800%

Once you get past Bobby Wood and Christian Pulisic there is a bit of a drop-off. That isn't to minimize their impact because it has been great. Without them, the US might likely not be qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

Speaking of qualification for the World Cup. Below is a list of current US players who rank in the top 50 in MLS right now.

RankPlayerTeam, Age, PositionMinsGoalsAssistsMotMRating
6Lee NguyenNew England Rev, 30, AM(CLR),FW21249837.43
7Cristian RoldanSeattle Sounders FC, 22, M(CR)23406247.43
11Graham ZusiSporting Kansas City, 31, D(R),M(CLR)16650517.33
22Sacha KljestanNew York Red Bulls, 32, M(C)21962747.19
24Jozy AltidoreToronto FC, 27, FW193213527.18
25CJ SapongPhiladelphia Union, 28, AM(LR),FW226313447.18
26Benny FeilhaberSporting Kansas City, 32, AM(C)20135127.16
27Kelyn RoweNew England Rev, 25, D(L),M(CLR)18950607.15
28Dax McCartyChicago Fire, 30, DMC19610407.13
31Clint DempseySeattle Sounders FC, 34, M(CL),FW176911337.11
33Justin MorrowToronto FC, 29, D(CLR),M(L)19545137.11
37Matt PolsterChicago Fire, 24, D(R),DMC12771407.09
38Darlington NagbePortland Timbers, 27, M(CLR)19133207.09
40Sheanon WilliamsVancouver Whitecaps, 27, D(CLR)12600207.08
42Ben SweatNew York City FC, 26, D(L)17181617.07
47Ike OparaSporting Kansas City, 28, D(C)20702037.05

After calling players in Europe the ceiling, I'm calling players in MLS the floor. This isn't to say MLS is poor. The league is fine (though, still second best to Liga MX in the region. I did not look players there as I used WhoScored data to filter through players).

Between these two lists, you can piece together a group of familiar names, but not great players. Both MLS and Europe are not providing what the US needs. Perhaps it will be Liga MX that produces what it needs - but Bruce Arena has made it clear that MLS based players is what he wants.

USMNT was in better shape in 2010.

2013-14 and the return of European based players changed that.

MLS isn't producing better players.

The team is stuck in nowheresville.