Monday, January 29, 2018

Meram to Orlando

Justin Meram was sent to Orlando City this afternoon for over a million in allocation dollars and an international slot in 2019.

Drafted in January of 2011, Meram was the most tenured player on the Columbus Crew (continuously, Josh Williams signed the summer previous but left the team for a couple years).

Meram will be greatly missed by the folks here at helltown.

Best of luck, Justin.

Captain Trapp, Jan camp over

Wil Trapp wore the armband last night in a 0-0 draw between the US and Bosnia and Herzegovina that marked the end of this year's January Camp. Columbus GK Zach Steffen and new Crew signing Gyasi Zardes also featured in the friendly.

The match was more or less a frustrating end to the three week-long "camp cupcake." Younger players were expected to be featured but head coach Dave Sarachan seeming opted to go for what he thought would be a win by using older, more experienced, ones.

Up top, it was CJ Sapong (29), who had a good MLS season last year, was replaced by a seasoned Juan Agudelo (25) were not able to add much to the match.

In the midfield, we saw some younger players, but only one could be really considered a "young player" in Tyler Adams (18). The other four are well known MLS commodities. On the wings, Sarachan went with decidedly non-wing like players in Jordan Morris and Gyasi Zardes. In the middle of the pitch we saw Christan Roldan (22) and Wil Trapp (25).

In the back it there were two under the age of 25 in Matt Polster and Walker Zimmerman paired with two 30-year-olds in Ike Opara and Justin Morrow. Bill Hamid got the start in goal.

It was a messy game because the lineup was lumpy. Trapp held things together in the back but because of the relatively poor play of Jordan Morris and Zardes the US never approached anything in regards to possession.

Bosnia and Herzegovina, for their part, played pretty good. It was a "C" team missing guys who are currently mid-season overseas.

January camp is used to be a sort of primer for the MLS season. Players are selected from as many MLS teams as possible for exposure with the goal of putting a couple in the net against a weakened side playing far from home. By this measure, the USMNT failed.

Later today we will see MLS roll out a new plan for their Miami franchise. USSF/MLS picked today because, in a perfect MLS world, I think they wanted a result from the team of MLS-ers the night before to help with momentum. They didn't get it.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Crew sign Valenzuela, 19

Columbus signs Milton Valenzuela, a 19-year-old left wing back from Argentina, as the 3 official Designated Player after buying down Jonathan Mensah's wages with allocation money.

Being a younger player, Valenzuela will only cost the Crew something like $250k in terms of a budget number, but I expect his actual wage to be somewhere near double that considering the transfer fee is being reported at around $1.3 million.

Valenzuela's resume is highlighted by starts on the U20 Argentina team. Other than that, details are fairly limited. In the game world, EA FIFA likes his potential (77 rating), but more or less an average player at the moment. FM Scout has him listed in top 100 wonderkids as far as left wing backs are concerned.

Projected Crew Starters
Meram - Higuain - Santos
Trapp - Artur
Valenzuela - Mensah - Sauro - Afful

That's a fairly strong MLS starting lineup, with strength and balance all over the field. I expect the play between Santos and Higuain alone to make Columbus enough of a force to pull them towards the top of MLS (top 8, if I may be so bold).


The big question mark right now remains with the production of Zardes. He'll need to produce more than 10 goals in order to get this team into the MLS elite. Last year the East has four teams with over 60 goals. Columbus fans are familiar with the output of a number of players. Optimistically, you expect 25-30 or so from Justin Meram, Federico Higuain and Pedro Santos with means you'll need at least 10 from Zardes to get to 40 and have the rest of the team (namely; Mike Grella) to fill in the remaining dozen goals to make the Crew a viable playoff team.


Again, this team has a nice balance to it. If Gaston Sauro is healthy, I can see Columbus putting up a few more shutouts than last year. So, while Ola Kamara is gone, they may make up for the lack of scoring by stopping their opponents (particularly if Zack Steffen continues to improve, and of course, stay).


I'm estimating it to be about in line with last year; $6.3 - 6.5 million. What this means is that the team is just about complete in building its Spring / Summer roster. There's room for another pretty good player, perhaps to challenge Zardes up top, but I don't expect it to be much of anything.

The team is already covered if Justin Meram moves on because of the Grella signing. That said, if Meram were to go I expect Gregg Berhalter to go shopping.


Columbus were / did get gutted at the left back position in the offseason (Jukka Raitala and Waylon Francis are gone via various expansion related things). Valenzuela has a huge opportunity here to grow into that role. The idea of a young Argentinian playing a wing back role is exciting and different (for MLS) but there are lots of question marks. "Unproven" being the big one.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Ola out, Zardes in (Meram stays)

Gregg Berhalter grants Ola Kamara's wish to play on the coast with a trade for Gyasi Zardes.

Kamara's role will not be easily filled by Zardes, whose career started with a bang but has drifted south since his second season (2014) where he notched 16 goals in 32 appearances. That said, with a Berhalter coached team, he will get many more chances directly in front of goal next year.

What Berhalter likely see's is his ability to finish chances throughout his career when taking the longer view (xG stats, save for last year, are good). The style of play helped both Ola and Kei Kamara jump to the top of the league in terms of scoring.

Zardes is a sort of made man in terms of salary. In March 2016 the LA Galaxy tripled his wages to $458k due, in part, to the desire to keep him in MLS and not see him head out to Championship side Reading. That figure puts him in line with what Kamara is making ($500k).

Important to note that Zardes' contract is up at the end of this season so Columbus will likely see quite a bit of effort from him.

All-in-all it is a bit of a gamble to believe Zardes can produce the way both Kamara's did for the Crew.


On Meram. Berhalter has made it clear that he wants him to be part of the 2018 Crew plans, even though the player has expressed a desire to move out.


The Crew roster is sitting at 24, with salaries equalling around $6 million.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Ola Kamara, Coastal City

"...multiple sources have now said Kamara prefers to be in a larger, coastal MLS city."

Both Ola Kamara and Justin Meram have asked out of Columbus. The story broke January 5th. Since then sources have chirped more about Kamara (with almost nothing on Meram).

The Colorado Rapids and the LA Galaxy have expressed interest in Kamara. News today seems to put LA on top to win the striker.

What struck me about Kamara was the news that he wanted to play in a coastal city. In my time following MLS I've found that you rarely, if ever, hear about a player preference in the press. And certainly not a preference to live on the coast.

It's rare, but I've heard about player preference in other major pro sports in the US, however. I know in the NHL it is common practice for players to include cities that they would not to be traded to, but outside that, you don't hear much. With trades and free-agency, players are limited and can't get choosy. In fact, it's more likely that you'll hear players get frustrated about winding up in a place they don't want to be. Either from a draft or being traded in the 11th hour.

It somehow got out that Kamara has a preference. Maybe he can pick his spot because he is top two in league scoring the past couple years. Regardless.

It prompted me to take a look at how many professional champions come from coastal cities in NBA, NFL, MLB and MLS over the last 20 years.

Turns out that almost 65% of all titles are won by a team near the coast. Throw in tax-free Texas and it is 3/4th of all league champions.That's... something!

Coast - 50
everywhere else - 30

Here is the breakdown by state:

18 - California
9 - Texas
9 - Massachusetts
6 - New York
6 - Missouri
5 - Florida
4 - Illinois
4 - Colorado
3 - Pennsylvania
2 - Ohio
2 - Washington
2 - Maryland
2 - DC
1 - Wisconsin
1 - Utah
1 - Indiana
1 - Arizona
1 - Louisiana
1 - Oregon
1 - Michigan
1 - Canada

It's hard to argue that Kamara wants to be in a winning MLS city. He's winning in Columbus. I think he just wants to be in a bigger city and near the beach.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

I Went to a Soccer Town Hall

By: Vidda Grubin

If I were to sum up Eric Wynalda's vision for American soccer in very few words, it would be this...

Facilitate the expansion of opportunity to achieve.

I am tempted to leave this blog post with those words and those words only.

The part of me that was stunned at how well Mr. Wynalda expressed what I have been trying to write about for the last seven years cannot stop typing. From youth soccer, he's a dad of six, to the professional level (both female and male) to the national team level, Eric gets it.

He gets that with the United States Soccer Federation's vast wealth, power and ultimately backing and reason for being; millions of dues paying players, parents, fans and others, the next great leap forward is, and must be, by empowering each and every corner of the American soccer family to have a chance at creating Clubs (with a capital "C") that can build from youth through pro. Clubs, and the people who make them Clubs, which can strive and compete with both small goals and great big goals in mind.

Specifically, if I may be permitted to extrapolate out from what Eric Wynalda talked about (Please, Eric, if you read this, correct me where I'm misunderstanding your stance), the marketing of the American game must be taken away from SUM and brought back in house to the USSF. Talks should then be started with MLS as to whether they want to be part of the USSF's professional soccer initiatives, which will adhere to FIFA standards. The regional map for thousands of clubs to exist within a thriving American amateur and professional club soccer family is already in place. Publish the standards and requirements for each level and then help facilitate where possible.

Mr. Wynalda wants these things to happen. And importantly, he wants to use transparent governance to make them happen.

I went to a soccer town hall. I am happy I did. I hope Eric Wynalda can win the fight ahead of him. Transparent governance facilitating the expansion of opportunity to achieve is nothing less than the singular goal in front of American soccer.

By: Vidda Grubin

I'm going to a soccer town hall today. Eric Wynalda will be speaking. I'm curious. I've also, for the past four years, been a soccer voyeur, sitting quietly and guilt free watching the soccer world spin.

I haven't always been a soccer voyeur. I was a player through college and into many years of amateur adult play. I was a coach for 25 years. I was a referee (we need more of these thingies). I am a soccer dad of two soccer playing sons, now grown and doing there own meta. I've been a soccer writer, depending on your definition, on and off for the last 7 years. I've also written some novels, kids short stories, poetry and recently music lyrics.

That last bit of stuff was always for myself. (I wanted to learn to write. I flunked all my high school grammar tests, true story) And, it was for friends, family and most importantly my children. As I aged like concrete setting on a sweltering summer day in Florida, sweat dripping off my solid grey dreams and worries of not ever having done anything meaningful, the novels, stories and poetry became that hopefully meaningful part of myself, the part I could give as gifts and share with the world.

And some really horrible things happened in my real life. Things that expose human beings and being itself for what they/it truly is, capable of virtually anything, good, bad, heroic, vicious, indifferent, selfless. 

Why am I telling you all this? Seems important to me. You need to know where the soccer/life experience has taken me so that, maybe, you understand what I'm about to say.

Anthony Precourt is right. Yep, he's a bit of a scumbag, but he's right in wanting to move the Crew out of Columbus. I wrote a couple of months ago about the Crew's move here.

Since then, I've done the voyeur thing. I've looked at Columbus physically, socially, and culturally. While Columbus is a perfect place for a professional soccer team, it's movers and shakers couldn't give a tiny rat's ass about soccer and the Crew. Look at the map below carefully.


Now, be honest with yourself. Where is there a compelling space for a downtown area Columbus Crew stadium? Did the people who could purchase/set aside/develop land in the rapidly developing downtown area keep the Crew in mind when transforming downtown, the Brewery District, the Short North, Italian Village, Franklinton? When Crew stadium was built at the fairgrounds did the movers and shakers begin to shape the area around the stadium into a destination for soccer/entertainment? Be honest.

There really is nowhere. The best spot is probably the Audubon park adjacent to German Village/Brewery District. That's not going to happen. Instead of hotels, condos, bars and restaurants going up near Crew stadium we got Lowes, Frisch's Big Boy and Aldi.

All of the above leaves only one good place for Crew stadium going forward; right where it is, but only if half the fairgrounds were sold to Precourt and developers to turn into Condos, bars, restaurants and parking garages. That is not going to happen.

Precourt and Garber, scumbags that they are, made an assessment of the prevailing money, culture and social environment (mostly the money and power part) in Columbus and decided, rightly, that the Columbus money and power people not only didn't care about soccer and the Crew, they actively worked against the Crew for...well...ever.

I'm going to a soccer town hall today.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Current Crew Roster

Preseason training is here and in a little under a month the team travels to Hawaii to start tuning up with some games. Time to take a snapshot of the Crew roster and identify where the team is headed.

2018 Estimate : Name
 $1,050,000 : Federico Higuain
 $844,000 : Jonathan Mensah
 $731,000 : Pedro Santos
 $500,000 : Ola Kamara*
 $350,000 : Wil Trapp
 $350,000 : Justin Meram*
 $300,000 : Harrison Afful
 $250,000 : Gaston Sauro
 $200,000 : Mike Grella
 $175,000 : Mohammed Abu
 $150,000 : Hector Jimenez
 $125,000 : Artur
 $120,000  : Josh Williams
 $105,000 : Zack Steffen
 $95,000 : Adam Jahn
 $85,000 : Alex Crognale
 $75,000 : Eduardo Sosa
 $73,000 : Niko Hansen
 $73,000 : Lalas Abubakar
 $73,000 : Cristian Martinez
 $65,004 : Jon Kempin
 $53,004 : Logan Ketterer
 $53,004 : Connor Maloney

- 23 players filling up a possible squad of 28, as things stand.
- ~$5.8m in wages, last summer it was $6.7m
- Team has about $1.0m to play with

*The big thing: 
The future of 2018 roster makeup hinges on Justin Meram and Ola Kamara, who have both expressed interest in leaving. Should one or both depart, they would be taking 60% of team goals (31/53) with them (Chicago, NYRB and NYCFC only teams higher). It creates a huge hole. Some of that will be made up by the arrival of Grella and increased scoring output from Santos (either by himself or contribution to others increasing their output from last year).

The team is clearly a playoff contender as-is, but I do expect Kamara and or Meram leaving. Kamara's the player that people want. Meram being the player others can afford.

Berhalter and company have room to play, so they are in a good position to fill gaps, should that happen. If it does, I expect the team to be fairly up and down early in the season, but the number of home games will help keep the positivity going.

It's difficult to foresee the overall impact of what's going on around the team and the move to Austin. I've head that players are confused and not sure what to say or do. It's an awful position to be in. It can also be taxing, emotionally. I expect that players that do have options (or feel they are desirable to others) will just not want to deal with the drama surrounding the team.

Outside of Kamara and Meram that would be Mensah, Higuain, Grella and Afful, who I see as guys who might not want to put up with it and seek a move at some point during the season. The rest of the squad is fairly set.

On the coaching, team admin side, the announcements by Kamara and Meram put a lot of work on Berhalter's desk.

Friday, January 12, 2018

NPSL in Columbus

FC Columbus is a new NPSL side announced today.
“We are thrilled to bring the NPSL to Columbus, one of the truly great soccer markets in North America,” NPSL Chairman Joe Barone said. “We have been working with this group since early summer and we are excited to have them as part of the NPSL family.  Ohio deserves great soccer and we are confident that FC Columbus will deliver an exemplary product on and off the field.”  
The leadership of the team will include Owner/Coach Maziya Chete, Co-Founder/Coach Seymour Alleyne, General Manager Darrell Hughes, and Game Day Manager Analisa Trares.
Maziya Chete made it clear that this has been in the works for some time and has nothing to do with what is going on with MLS Columbus Crew SC's potential move to Austin, TX.

It's an obvious hot-button issue. Crew fans are embroiled in an existential crisis right now as their favorite meeting place for the last 20+ years (or last few, for most of them) is being taken away from them. With that, it's a very important fact that FC Columbus ownership made it clear that the formation of the team is completely separate from that activity.

I moved to Columbus nearly 10 years ago. I've always been struck by the strong soccer community here. Having lived in two other hotbeds of youth soccer (Northern Virginia and Raleigh, NC), I have found the relationship to the sport to be real and firmly placed, especially at the youth level. Almost to the point of operating completely outside the drama that comes with the pro game (MLS, USL, NASL, USSF).

It's an exciting and refreshing development in Columbus and will open up parts of the game to the community that most haven't seen before.

For more head over the great interview over at Midfield Press.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

US Players Abroad, Rating

Here's a quick look at US born players abroad in some of the top leagues in Europe, right now. The way I ranked the players was based simply on four criteria on a 10 pt scale (10 best-7-5-3-0 lowest):

1. Strength of League
2. Man of the Match (MotM)
3. WhoScored Rating
4. % Mins played (possible)

(ooo) is transfer value per, in thousands.

1940,500Christian PulisicBundesligaBorussia Dortmund27.1884%100
34225Josh WicksAllsvenskanSirius26.7480%75
271,350Alfredo Morales2. BundesligaIngolstadt07.0379%68
273,150Timothy ChandlerBundesligaEintracht Frankfurt16.8558%68
222,700Matt MiazgaEredivisieVitesse16.7881%68
2412,600John BrooksBundesligaWolfsburg07.2240%63
253,150Bobby WoodBundesligaHamburger SV16.5162%63
20450Cameron Carter-VickersChampionshipSheffield United16.7560%60
301,800Tim ReamChampionshipFulham06.8292%55
244,500DeAndre YedlinPremier LeagueNewcastle United06.7678%55
322,700Geoff CameronPremier LeagueStoke City06.6757%55
23450Brendan Hines IkeAllsvenskanÖrebro06.8795%50
291,580Eric LichajChampionshipNottingham Forest06.7358%48
26450Terrence Boyd2. BundesligaDarmstadt 9816.4525%45
194,050Weston McKennieBundesligaSchalke 0406.4347%45
281,800Danny WilliamsPremier LeagueHuddersfield Town06.3246%45
28270Andrew Wooten2. BundesligaSandhausen07.212%43
22630Julian Green2. BundesligaGreuther Fürth06.6849%43
304,500Fabian JohnsonBundesligaBorussia M'gladbach06.5130%40
21450Shaq MooreLa LigaLevente6.4926%40
33450Caleb StankoBundesligaFreiburg06.2112%40
24270Jerome Kiesewetter2. BundesligaFortuna Düsseldorf06.811%38
2222Romain GallAllsvenskanGIF Sundsvall06.5853%38
19450Haji Wright2. BundesligaSandhausen06.3230%38
22675Lynden GoochChampionshipSunderland06.2429%33
20315Keaton ParksPrimeira LigaBenfica06.163%33
27900Aron JóhannssonBundesligaWerder Bremen05.990%33
19Luca de la TorreChampionshipFulham06.022%25
22900Emmerson HyndmanPremier LeagueAFC Bournemouth25
20135Jonathan KlinsmannBundesligaHertha BSC25
1823Brian ScottBundesligaKöln25
20Kyle ScottPremier LeagueChelsea25
22225Desevio PayneEredivisieExcelsior06.396%20
24225Shane O'NeillEredivisieExcelsior18
2395Mael Corboz2. BundesligaMSV Duisburg18
1990Orrin McKinze Gaines2. BundesligaDarmstadt 9818
29360Conor O'BrienEliteserienStart13
21270Rubio RubinEliteserienStabæk13
29113Andrew StadlerAllsvenskanDalkurd13
2690Alexander Ray De JohnAllsvenskanDalkurd13
2890Stefan AntonijevicEliteserienLillestrøm13

I created a little rating system to help me sort who is playing well and try to find out any surprises and not so much surprises. In no particular order:

1. Josh Wicks, 34, GK, Sirius in Allsvenskan
Some might remember Wicks from his time in MLS in 2009. He got into a fight with teammate Marc Burch in a league match and also two foot stomped Fredy Montero (Seattle) in a US Open Cup game. He wasn't seen again in MLS and moved to Europe right after. He's been bouncing around Nordic leagues since. Having a good year this year. His WhoScored Rating of 6.74 (top 30%-ish of all players in the league). He may be crazy but had a good 2017.

2. Christian Pulisic, 19, Attacking Mid (L/R), Borussia Dortmund in Bundesliga
Pulisic has shot up to be possibly the best player the US has ever had. Grew up in Pennsylvania but moved to Germany around age 16. At 19 now and, according to TransferMarkt, worth over $40 million. Both American owned Manchester United and Liverpool want him so that fee could easily jump. 3 goals and an assist in 1300 minutes this year, with an astonishing rating of 7.18 which easily puts in the top 50 players in the league.

3. The Central Defenders
Matt Miazga (22), John Brooks (24) and Cameron Carter-Vickers (20). All under 25, all player will in their respective leagues so far this year. Brooks' (Wolfsburg) 7.22 rating and pass success rate of 85% is best in class, but his minutes sit less than 700 thus far.

4. Yedlin, Tops in Prem
DeAndre (24, Newcastle) took a chance heading over to the Premier League. Signed with Tottenham, loaned to Sunderland but now found his home in Newcastle. He's seen the dark side of relegation and the joy of promotion. I like his story. Like it or not, he's the only player in the regular starting eleven the US has right now, playing in 78% of possible minutes. His success has got his transfer fee close to $5 million.