Sunday, January 29, 2017

MLS Ohioans

Fig. 1
Rounding out the 2016 MLS season with a dive into minutes and where players are from. A couple of items stick out. 1. US born players now play less than half the minutes, and 2. There is a strong group of Ohioans in the league right now.

In regards to the first point, MLS is starting to look more like the English Premier League. There's nothing right or wrong with who is playing as it should always be the best available player. But there are forces at work here that might be something to keep and eye on. 

The EPL has the entire globe of which to draw the best players. Players are signed based almost entirely off playing ability. Teams cannot afford to lose. Keep in mind that it is a matter of degree, as well. Teams like Arsenal and Manchester United have to remain in the top four. Anything less is a failure. Others, like Sunderland or Burnley, are trying to not get relegated.

Things are different in MLS. Teams bounce around the table all year, every year. The way rosters are constructed are influenced by a number of factors outside of where they will finish. Jersey and ticket sales are at the top of the importance list. Making a splash in the news (social, mostly) is also critical. 

Nestled in there somewhere is how competitive a team is. There is a bit of a myth out there that says MLS teams don't suffer consequences if they are bad. For the most part, that is true. No matter how bad they are, they stay in MLS. That said, bad teams do suffer in attendance (the real kind, not the "announced" kind). Bad teams like Chicago or what was Chivas USA or Colorado before the end of last season draw half full stadiums.

Ohioans, 2016 MLS regular season
With the way MLS is constructed this not only hurts the teams but the overall league. The pitifulness of Chivas USA drew the attention of the league office and eventually a sale was attempted. When no buyers emerged, the team was folded. It was a drag on the rest of the teams. The Chicago Fire are currently living the same state of affairs. Have you seen the news that the MLS Allstar game is going to be in Chicago, but not at the MLS stadium in Bridgeview that is the home of the Fire? In recent years, the annual all-star game is usually reserved for new stadiums. This year's game being played at Soldier Field has everything to do with trying to resurrect the MLS franchise there.

Now, to the second point. In the midst of all the wackiness that is how MLS rosters are constructed, the state of Ohio continues to produce a strong stable of good players. This past year was no different. 

One piece of information that is a testament to many of the qualities I've witnessed first hand in my ten years here is how teams with Ohioans perform strongly in the MLS Cup Playoffs. In Fig. 1 up there (extra time playoff games trimmed to 90 mins) you'll notice that the percentage of minutes played increases measurably in the playoffs.

It's a one year look in, but it's enough to pull out a thing or two. It's an impressive list of players. There are two players, in particular, to make mention of. Evan Bush and Nick Hagglund. Hagglund wasn't a lock in Toronto's XI during the regular season but did play five playoff games, notching a goal and two assists in a defensive role.

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