Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Top Passers in the USL, 2018

The USL regular season has wrapped up, so I decided to dig into the wealth of data available on their site. First up - Passing.

The better passers you have on the team the better your possession. This means you can dictate more of the game. Do what you want to do instead of having it done to you. If that makes any sense.

Along with a couple of charts, I want to get to what it means to have good passers on your team. How I did this - take a few measurements that Opta has pulled out of USL games. Those categories:

1. Total Passes
2. Pass Completion %
3. % Complete in Opposition Half
4. Long Pass % Complete

Here are the top 12 players when you take the rank in each of those categories:

Having the better passers in the league should mean you have a better team. Obviously, that's not always the case, but let's put it to the test real quick.

By my count, there are 527 players that have managed over 900 minutes this year. If we take to top 20% passers (which works out to be about 100 players) and match them up with their team records, we should see a relationship.

Pos.CityPWLTGDPtsTop Passers
2Orange County SC34208630666
3Louisville City34196933665
4Sacramento Republic34197815653
5Phoenix Rising34199625631
6Real Monarchs34191238609
8Reno 1868341671118596
7Pittsburgh Riverhounds341551421592
9Charleston Battery341461413563
10Portland Timbers 234171349554
12Saint Louis34149116534
11Swope Park Rangers3415118-1533
13New York Red Bulls II341381312520
14Bethlehem Steel341412815502
15San Antonio3414128-3501
17Nashville SC341291311494
16Indy Eleven341311103491
18North Carolina FC341313810477
19Ottawa Fury3413156-12450
20OKC Energy3412157-3434
21Charlotte Independence34101212-13426
22Tampa Bay Rowdies34111580415
24Fresno FC34913126393
23Colorado Springs3411176-3392
25Rio Grande Valley3481214-6382
26Penn FC3491510-9371
27LA Galaxy II3410177-7371
28Atlanta United 23471710-35317
29Las Vegas Lights FC348197-24310
30Seattle Sounders 2346217-31252
31Richmond Kickers346244-50223
32Tulsa Roughnecks3431912-41212
33Toronto II344246-35182

Great, it works out (mostly).

- Top 5 average 4 players in the top 20% of all passers in the league.
- Middle group has 3
- Bottom averages 2.

Or, to put it another way. Average points earned if you have +5 top passers is 52. If you have 2 or less? Those teams averaged 41 pts. 11 point difference. Find passers everyone.

Below will be a more straightforward look at the top passers in the USL for 2018. Total passes / Overall Completion %.


The United Soccer League isn't looked at as a pathway to a higher league. Part of that is exposure, part of that is the way soccer is structured in the United States. That said, here are some players that warrant a closer look.
1. Graham Smith, North Carolina FC. DM, 24 years old Graham is in the top 20% in all my categories. Notably 5th in passing in the opponents half of the field. At 24, he's reaching mid-career without a whole lot of professional experience, but what he's done in his first USL season is impressive.  

2. Boluwatife Akinyode, Nashville, DM, 24 years old Another defensive mid and ranked first in Pass% and % complete in the opposition half. He's been bouncing around the NY Red Bulls system for years, with stops at Bethlehem and NCFC. Currently mired in mid-table nowhere's ville Nashville, he's definitely worth a closer look.  

3. Justin Portillo, Real Monarchs, MF, 26 years old Justin spent quite a bit of time with the Charleston Battery and has struck gold in the USL. the Monarchs have 9 players in the top 20% according to my measurement, he tops the list.
There are two Graham Smith's in the USL. The other plays off and on for Swope Park as well as MLS Sporting KC. Both are good players, but the NCFC one is better (at least in terms of the 2018 USL season).

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Columbus Crew Saved?

It appears that the Columbus Crew have been saved by a potential new investment team comprised of Cleveland Browns owner (Dee and) Jimmy Haslam along with longtime Crew physician Pete Edwards.

A rumor emerged somewhere over on the "big soccer" message boards late last week that a deal had been struck and provided further detail into what, how and when. Like these things tend to do, it spread like a wildfire that ultimately led to a local brewery named Endeavor opening it's doors early on Friday, October 12.

Crowds gathered there to await official word that they figured was sure to come.

I was curious enough in what was going on to make the trip to Endeavor myself to see what was up. Sure enough, a moderately sized crowd was there decked out and Crew gear milling about in front of "save the crew" banners. Two local news teams were on the scene (channel 10 and ABC 6) to cover the action, as well.

Once I squeezed in the doors, I started scanning the crowd looking for I don't know what. I figured if it was an NFL owner involved there would be a massive contingent of sharply dressed team officials and media there - but there was not. MLS officials aren't normally as sharp as NFL, but they are fairly easy to spot - and they didn't appear to be there. Or if they were, they were there as fans.

Patrick Murphy - Reporter
The only "official" person I could spot was Josh Williams, who has been with the team for the better part of the last decade.

It was a bizarre scene. Fans and media showing up just because of a rumor. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted some familiar faces like former Massive Report podcast mate Chris LaMacchia and local beat writers Patrick Murphy (Massive Report) and Andrew King (MLS). I headed over to get some info, but none was to be found. Turns out, they were in the dark just as much as anyone else.

The only concrete info I could find was that Josh Williams just decided to show up because he "heard something was up." Anyone familiar with Josh knows that if there was even a hint of his hometown NFL team being involved, he would be there. As a matter of fact, he might not have even heard. That team is so ingrained into its people, it was likely just instinctual for the northeast Ohio native. His feet could have just started carrying him in that direction without his conscience even knowing what was going on.

Rumors of an official announcement from Alex Fischer, local business leader and often voice of potential new leadership popped up, but it got pushed back. Then rumor of the Browns making a statement came and went.

At this point, it was clear that the official parties involved (MLS, new ownership) were not ready to make an announcement. Columbus Crew fans were ready, however. They were goddamn ready,  thus creating the most fascinating thing about what happened that day - the gathering at Endeavor got so much attention that it forced an official reaction. Power to the fans.

Here is a summary: MLS came out strong in support of what was going on down in Austin and confirmed talks with a new group. The potential local ownership group confirmed interest and advanced negotiations... and released a bizarre statement through a Browns twitter feed, that in part said they were "hopeful to be a part of the solution to keep the team," and "We would invest in a strong infrastructure within the Crew organization so that we can continue our focus and commitment to building a winning Cleveland Browns football team."

Jimmy Haslam has long wanted a training facility in Columbus, so it appears his involvement is basically to get that done. Based on the team statement, that is.

None of this suggests it is a done deal, but it looks positive for folks that want to keep the team in town and boy did they celebrate. As they should. It's been a long year for them.


At this point, it looks like MLS is okay with selling the Crew brand to Haslam and Edwards and letting Anthony Precourt work out things in Austin, but neither part appears to be complete. At worst, it is Don Garber and MLS meeting requirements to settle the suit with the state about moving the team.


It's gotten late in the game for MLS to do anything in both Austin and Columbus for 2019. I expect the negotiations between MLS and new ownership to drag on and Austin to not field a team next year. What this means is that there is a possibility that Columbus could be, in part, run by the league next year.