Monday, December 2, 2019

Browns Dysfunction a Warning to Crew Fans

The Cleveland Browns have an organizational problem and that organization now runs the Columbus Crew.

In the last few seasons under Haslam's control of the team, fans have seen a noticeable drop in already poor results since the team came back in 1999. Five of Haslam's seven seasons owning the team have produced 5 or fewer wins with 0-16 and 1-15 tank seasons among them.

In the 21 seasons since the Browns re-formed they have only had a winning record twice (2002, 2010). You'll find the Browns, more often than not, winning somewhere between 4-6 games a year (11 times since '99), but there is something deeper wrong with Cleveland since Jimmy Haslam took over the team in 2012.

A clear outward sign of disfunction within team offices is that NFL Corporate is watching from their offices in New York. A few weeks ago a couple star players were wearing un-approved cleats that prompted the league offices to call the team and force them to remove the gear at half-time (they did). Now, uniform infractions happen in every game, but it usually handled afterward and results in a fine.

Anyone who has ever been in charge of a group knows it sucks when one of the higher-ups start watching your team instead of you. It means they have lost complete faith in you as a leader and cannot count on you to fix the issues. I've been on both sides of this.

The fact that the league was monitoring Cleveland tells me that they were/are being babysat. What that says is that there is much more going on that prompted the supervision that we do not know.

Turns out the league was correct in thinking something was seriously wrong in Cleveland.

Not long after the seemingly bland uniform incident, you had a Cleveland player threaten to kill a reporter and a fan on social media after a loss. The team eventually dropped him.

Fast forward a bit again and we see the frightening use of a helmet as a weapon on an opposing player. It ended up bonking him on the head and not doing any real damage (outside of probably bringing on dementia a year earlier?) - but had it hit another way, the player would have been on the ground with a bloody head that the NFL would see pictures of for the rest of eternity.

Seriously, imagine that image. It's possible it would have irreparably done damage to the NFL. A player on the ground, unconscious and bleeding from the head is the league's worst nightmare (or worse, an on-field fatality from the hit).

This past weekend, the Browns lined up against the same team in the Steelers. During the week lead-up to the game, Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens wore a shirt that said: "Pittsburgh started it," while Haslam's wife Dee, who runs the Crew, wore a skull cap with the number (95) of the player that was suspended for using the helmet as a weapon.

To add another head-scratching event, the team mysteriously left one of there pro-bowl players at home. No explanation was given. However, it is notable that he left a Pittsburgh player bleeding from his ear after an illegal hit shortly before the helmet swing.

If all of this is bewildering and difficult to understand, well, welcome to the club. From Johnny Football to hiring (and firing) a baseball guru to try and turn things around... Cleveland is a joke of an organization under the Haslams. It burns me up because my wife and her family are life-long fans of the team. Her dad is from Cleveland! It hurts my heart to see her Sundays week after week the last several years.

DEE CREW

Dee Haslam appears to be the one in the room for Columbus Crew decisions.

Friday, November 29, 2019

MLS Re-Entry Options, 2019


Every year I take a good look at MLS players cast aside by their respective teams to try and find a hidden gem among over-priced diamonds. There are some years where there is a player or two out there that fits a team need - but usually, it's just a long list of players who have a dangling contract that MLS wants to be put to good use. Last week the four players were taken in the "stage one." None of note.

This year I've only got one player that might be a solid sign in Víctor Rodríguez (Seattle). He put in a bunch of minutes and I've had him ranked 10th best Left Midfielder in MLS in the summer. The drawback? He's over 30 and his existing contract is over a million.

Teams can re-negotiate contracts at this point in the draft process, but that starting figure is high for most teams looking to fill a role. That said. If he's healthy, he's worth the spend.

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Here are the five other players to pull the trigger on:

Juan Agudelo, Forward, 600k, 27
His level is known in MLS at this point, but he deserves a chance away from New England. Put him on a natural surface in a competitive environment. He'll be well worth it.

Dillion Powers, Midfielder, $200k, 29
Solid player that, like Agudelo, has played for crummy organizations. I'd pick him up for the energy and durability.

Shane O'Neill, Defender, $140k, 26
Like Powers and Agudelo, he's been with horrible orgs. Only difference is he tried to get out of MLS before ultimately coming back to the dumpster fire that is Orlando. He's cheap. In his prime. Loads of experience. Pick him up.

Derrick Etienne, Forward, $82k, 23
AGAIN; his has been hobbled by joining a bad org in Cincy. NY loaned him there and it was a horrific season for that team. He's practically a must pick at less than $100k.

Connor Maloney, Defender, $70k, 25
Columbus shouldn't have dropped him. He came in late in the season. Proved he can play in MLS, was beloved by teammates, and is under $100k. I'm still mad Columbus put him on the market.

SPECIAL HELLTOWN PLAYER

Luke Mulholland

I was writing about Luke back in 2012, when he was in the USL. I tagged him as a player MLS teams should pick up. Well, it happened. Real Salt Lake picked him up in 2014 and he went on to play an important role with the team for five years.

Salt Lake dropped him down to their "two" USL team last year. But he's English. He'll play till he drops and give you everything he has.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Crew Already (making moves), Higuain Out

The MLS Cup playoffs might have just started but team president Tim Bezbatchenko is getting a head start on the offseason by announcing several roster moves. All totaled, we know that six players will no be back next year, but only one of them really matters.

Federico Higuain.

CREW PLAYERS OUT
GK: Ben Lundgaard
CB: Alex Crognale
DM: David Guzman
RM: Eddie Opoku
CM: Eduardo Sosa
CM: Federico Higuain

OPTIONS PICKED UP
MID: Luis Argudo
LB: Waylon Francis
Utility: Hector Jimenez
CD: Jonathan Mensah
MID: Pedro Santos
DM: Wil Trapp


HERE'S THE TEAM RIGHT NOW
Marked in Pink are key players as of right now. Meaning: They have the ability to set the team apart from other MLS teams.

FORWARDS:
Williams, JJ
Zardes, Gyasi

MIDFIELDERS:
Argudo, Luis
Artur
Diaz, Luis
Mokhtar, Youness
Santos, Pedro
Trapp, Wil

DEFENDERS:
Abubakar, Lalas
Cadden, Chris
Francis, Waylon
Jimenez, Hector
Keita, Aboubacar
Mensah, Jonathan
Valenzuela, Milton
Williams, Josh

GOALKEEPERS:
Kempin, Jon
Room, Eloy

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

USMNT Lost to Canada, Too Much MLS

The US Men's National Team lost to Canada for the first time since 1985, 2-0 up at BMO Field in Toronto. The US had a total of 17 matches unbeaten, which I have listed below (because no one seems to).

02 Apr 1985 - Canada v USA - L - 2-0 International Friendly
04 Apr 1985 - USA v Canada - D - 1-1 International Friendly
05 Feb 1986 - USA v Canada - D - 0-0 Miami Cup
16 Mar 1991 - USA v Canada - W - 2-0 North American Championship
03 Sep 1992 - Canada v USA - W - 0-2 International Friendly
09 Oct 1992 - USA v Canada - D - 0-0 International Friendly
03 Mar 1993 - USA v Canada - D - 2-2 International Friendly
16 Mar 1997 - USA v Canada - W - 3-0 FIFA World Cup
09 Nov 1997 - Canada v USA - W - 0-3 FIFA World Cup
30 Jan 2002 - USA v Canada - W - 0-0 CONCACAF Gold Cup
18 Jan 2003 - USA v Canada - W - 4-0 International Friendly
09 Jul 2005 - USA v Canada - W - 2-0 CONCACAF Gold Cup
22 Jan 2006 - USA v Canada - D - 0-0 International Friendly
21 Jun 2007 - USA v Canada - W - 2-1 CONCACAF Gold Cup
07 Jun 2011 - USA v Canada - W - 2-0 CONCACAF Gold Cup
03 Jun 2012 - Canada v USA - D - 0-0 International Friendly
29 Jan 2013 - USA v Canada - D - 0-0 International Friendly
05 Feb 2016 - USA v Canada - W - 1-0 International Friendly
15 Oct 2019 - Canada v USA - L - 2-0 CONCACAF Nations League

There a couple of things that jump out at you when combing over the results.

1. Yesterday was only the 5th time that the US has played in Canada since 1985 (5/17=29% of the time). The previous 17 matches between the two nations saw the match played 9 times out of 17 (53% of the time). The difference is more or less do to MLS and building interest. There was a run of six straight in the US between 2001 and 2011, a decade where the US racked up wins.

2. The USA doesn't play Canada for World Cup Qualifying. For a weak region like CONCACAF, it seems a bit strange. All-time, Canada has an advantage over the US in WC Qualifiers. The US has 13 played,  4 wins, 3 draws, 6 losses against those guys up north, but the last time the two played to qualify was 1997. Again, weird, but likely due to MLS.

MLS MINUTES LAST NIGHT

Over the last few years, MLS has been bringing in the best players from all over CONCACAF. Canada has always been here, however. Even going back to the old NASL days.

So what did the game look like last night? Lots of MLS experienced players.

What I've done is simply look up how many minutes each player that was in the 18 has this year. I quartered MLS players to quickly simplify things as most leagues across the world are only 25% of the way through the season.

The point of this exercise was to quickly get to the heart of things. Was this an MLS v. MLS duel?


















Yes! It was an MLS duel. Something that sticks out first to me, when looking at the data this way, is the sheer number of leagues Canadian players play in. A total of 11, while we only see players from 5 different leagues for the USMNT. Maybe it shouldn't be all that surprising.

Also sticking out is how much MLS is on the bench for Gregg Berhalter's US team. It sort of speaks to the simplicity of scouting, but also to the preference based on marketing the league to non-MLS fans.

SOLUTIONS TO CATCHING... CANADA

US Players; England & Germany only
For me, this flyover look at where the two national team selections are playing tells an important story.

You need players fighting and scraping in uncomfortable situations. Simply put, it creates a better player. MLS has quality, but it is firmly 2nd tier, possibly 3rd. Your best players cannot be playing in a low impact, comfortable situation and expect to compete with players humping it every day in Belgium, Scotland, Chile, Norway, Mexico. It's great that the US is calling up players in England and Germany, but these are culturally similar countries that the pay to play youth model often treats like a teen going to college. Bundesliga being that rich kid prestigious university up north. England, a solid State school.

Canada is calling up its best players, regardless of league. The US team is calling marketable MLS players and sprinkling in a handful of others. Does that make sense? In order for the US to get back to being best in class in CONCACAF, they need to undo the MLS shackles.

Take a look at a "what if" situation. What if Gregg Berhalter only called in players in Germany and England - what would that look like? It looks like they would stomp the mix-matched MLS heavy team Berhalter is trying to put together.

Wood - Sargent - Shelton
Pulisic - McKennie - Gooch
Robinson - Brooks - Miazga - Yedlin
Steffen

The problem emerging is that the USMNT has gone from calling in plucky over-performing MLS guys to practically mandating it after the hire of Gregg Berhalter. The players being selected simply do not have what it takes. A random selection of the 250+ guys playing outside MLS would yield better results.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Helltown Beer MLS Player of the Year

This marks the 8th MLS Player of the Year Award for Helltown. It's the same rating system I've been using since 2011. It's a simple system that looks at basic "box score" statistics and then weighs how well the team did during the regular season. It's not meant to split hairs, it's purpose since day one has been to give me a general idea of who is playing well.

LAFC took over my rating system this year. Six of my top 10 players are on that team. Similar to WhoScored's team of the year (where there are four on the starting 11). MLS's age of "super-teams," comparatively speaking, is here.

You can see the complete FINAL list HERE.

2019 WINNER: CARLOS VELA

Past Winners:
2018: Josef Martinez
2017: Nemanja Nikolić
2016: Bradley Wright-Phillips
2015: Bradley Wright-Phillips
2014: Robbie Keane
2013: Darlington Nagbe
2012: Chris Wondolowski
2011: Todd Dunivant

Goal scoring players have dominated my winner's list SIX years straight, which lines up with MLS's focus on increasing goals.

Since 2011 I've had 7 forwards, a midfielder and a defender win Player of the Year. I have not changed my methodology since 2011.

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Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Crew Player Values, 2020 Lineup


Today I'm going to take a quick look at what 2019 Crew players are world strictly based on WhoScored performances. How I did it is was take the median salary of the four players above and below them in rating by position played (MLS is all about leveling by position, sorry defenders).

Please keep in mind this is a loose valuation for a couple reasons. 1st: It's only looking at one rating, it's a good one, but merely just one. The other is that this doesn't take into account age, development, potential, soft skill, etc. It's just performance this year. Lastly, I didn't rate Room (gk), he's fine.


OUT PERFORMING 2019 SALARY
PlayerWageValueDiff% off
Connor Malo$70,250$250,000$179,750256%
Luis Argudo$57,225$175,000$117,775206%
Aboubacar K$110,000$275,000$165,000150%
Josh Willia$215,000$475,000$260,000121%


UNDERPAID
Pedro Santos$864,560$1,300,000$435,44050%
Luis Díaz$250,000$350,000$100,00040%
Héctor Jimé$200,000$250,000$50,00025%


PAID ABOUT RIGHT
Waylon Fran$199,167$230,000$30,83315%
Ricardo Cla$160,000$175,000$15,0009%
Harrison Af$363,800$350,000-$13,800-4%
Eduardo Sos$120,200$100,000-$20,200-17%


OVERPAID
Alex Crogna$104,504$75,000-$29,504-28%
Wil Trapp$593,746$400,000-$193,746-33%
David Guzmá$320,000$175,000-$145,000-45%
Youness Mok$533,845$250,000-$283,845-53%
Jonathan Me$894,000$400,000-$494,000-55%
Federico Hi$1,100,000$450,000-$650,000-59%


WAY OVERPAID
Gyasi Zarde$1,471,667$550,000-$921,667-63%
Artur$411,633$150,000-$261,633-64%


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THOUGHTS ON THE OVERPAID
-------------------

 I think Columbus should take a close look at the guys overpaid. The situation clearly takes a front seat to this, but here's how I see it.
- Trapp: Has a great deal of MLS value, but not much longer. Time to move him may be now (or never). 
- Guzman: Really slow start, but grew a little bit into his role. Players can be found for a lot less and a lot younger that provide the same quality. I get that he's a Porter guy, but you don't need that stuff in year two. 
- Mokhtar: Came on strong late in the year. I think he'll easily make up his value. 
- Mensah: MLS doesn't pay defenders. Might be worth it to keep him, but that wage is huge. 
- Higuain: Best to probably treat him like Sauro. Drop him back (if possible), see if that knee is okay. 
- Zardes: Not worth that wage. Makes it up if he stays on the USMNT, but I don't see that happening. 
- Artur: He is a serviceable player, but you can find just as good for half the price.

Going into this offseason I think Columbus has to offload a couple of these guys. All of them are good players, but they are just being paid more than similar in the MLS market (bubble). You always want players to be outperforming their contracts. That's healthy.

Based on this, here's how I structure the lineup:
Leaving it open like this makes it more exciting. I think the roster is due a major refresh.

Open Spots: Forward x2, 2 starting CM's and a sub, and another backup CB unless Abubakar returns from Colorado. I think Valenzuela should start on the bench after a knee injury (backup at LB or RB). With his skill set, I'd even consider him for a CM role.

Maybe keep Zardes? I wouldn't because he doesn't offer anything outside of goals. $1.4 million is right on the edge for goal scorer that doesn't offer any support play. Like Trapp, he is at peak MLS value right now. Find a player that is a better value.

The 2020 lineup here is solid and financially stable, i.e. players outperforming their contracts. What this sets up is lineup consistency for a couple years to come.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

New Crew Stadium: Criticisms, Praise

The Columbus Crew released new renderings of their proposed new stadium that is located in the downtown area near (in?) the Arena District. The same place where the Columbus Blue Jackets and Clippers already have stadiums.

PRAISE

It's hard to get past the fact that this team has gone from, well, being gone to on the edge of having a modern stadium in the last 18 months is pretty amazing. Crew fans are celebrating and quite drunk on all the good things happening to their favorite thing.

The stadium itself looks in line with other MLS stadiums that are popping up in recent years. I'm not sure how you hit a home run in regards to stadium renderings for something in a city like Columbus, but I reckon this is it.

CRITICISMS

This will be more of a high-level look at things as that's about all renderings give you.

I'm most confused by the full roof. I get that some shade is needed because I've been going to Crew Stadium for over a decade. There is no mercy if the sun is out during the summer. And no cover from rain or snow. But for me, a full roof taketh more than it giveth.

For example: Columbus has a couple storm delays a year. It does seem more frequent in recent times, but it's only a small number. Roofs don't prevent delays but do provide cover. Good! But this isn't Manchester, England. You don't need a roof for a few spring evenings of rain and maybe MAYBE one snow (if we are lucky! those are great).

I do see the need to create some much-needed shade for fans, however. But that comes with a drawback as well. The roof appears to be black. Which means it'll be absorbing all the heat and literally cooking fans during the summer. Shade, good! Cooking in an oven, bad!

This is what happens most at Crew games - Hot to very warm summer evenings. 85 degrees turns in to 105 under a dark-colored roof on a sunny day. Think of getting into a black colored car in the summer. Or with homes - they are usually a light color because dark colors absorb all the heat. How many houses in your hood are black?

Two more drawbacks on the full roof. Both fall into the "Larry Experience" category.

1. Even though it is downtown, you can't friggin see the downtown. One image has a keyhole view of it. Why mess with that?

2. When you shade the fans you also lose a beautiful midwestern sky. I'll argue with anyone that doesn't agree that the most appealing things about the current stadium is the damn sky. and how much of it you get to see. The sunsets on summer evenings are impossible to beat.

That's all I got. The beer garden, supporters' standing section, plaza, etc etc are all kinda standard stuff.

FINAL THOUGHT

If I'm in the stands I want an injection of COLUMBUS into my veins. A fully covered stand might as well be in Timbuktu. Having a roof is a kinda "we have it or don't have it" proposition. There isn't an inbetween unless you are attached to an NFL team (in the same city). I think if you are going to have a roof you have to open up one side of the stadium. Or, perhaps, chop off the second level on the side facing the city and or sunset. Compromise.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Crew Box and Whisker, Connor Maloney



Another way to look at WhoScored player ratings for the Crew this year is via box and whisker:

A couple surprises: Connor Maloney and Youness Mokhtar.

I had to do a double-take on Luis Argudo because I thought his performances had been good. Turns out he's just a little up and down.

A general rule of thumb - you want player performances to be above 6.5 - at least. Only Pedro Santos is pulling that off, with Maloney and Trapp nearly there.

CONNOR MALONEY

I'm going to go ahead and state that Maloney should be starting the rest of the season and get a new deal ASAP (currently at $70k, 3rd season). With these performances, he should be somewhere around $150-200k.

His last four starts: 7.39... 6.93... 6.80... 6.82 - Solid.

 Here are players that are currently in that range that play right and/or left back, for comparison.


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NameBirthplaceTeamAgeSalary
6.84Donny ToiaTucson, ArizonaRSL27$131,254
6.84Graham ZusiOrlando, FloridaSKC33$688,333
6.83Kelvin LeerdamParamaribo, SurinameSEA29$600,000
6.83AuroSao Paulo, BrazilTFC24$276,667
6.83Connor LadeMorristown, New JerseyNYR30$132,750
6.8Brad SmithPenrith, AustraliaSEA25$564,365
6.8Joao MoutinhoLisbon, PortugalORL22$203,000
6.79Kai WagnerGeislingen an der Steige, GermanyPHI23$360,150
6.79Edgar CastilloLos Cruces, New MexicoNER33$250,000

Median age is 27 (Maloney is 24) and the median salary is $277k.

Milton Valenzuela returns next year after a major knee injury that will put Maloney back on the bench, but I think his play, even at this early stage of evaluation, warrants a new deal and regular spot in the gameday 18. If he's able to keep this up, he may even have a shot at challenging Harrison Afful ($364k) for the RB role.

When I see a player crush his opportunity after waiting for one over multiple seasons, well, it warms me inside. Means the guy has been staying in shape and working hard outside the spotlight. You can't underestimate the value of that in regards to predicting what type of player he will be going forward.

Another sign of a quality person is Maloney was voted by teammates as the Kirk Urso Heart Award winner in 2018.

A solid $200k, gameday 18 endorsement from Helltown.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Updated Crew Player NPS

Here's another update to Crew player's Net Promoter Score (NPS). I've been tracking this metric throughout the season. If you want to see previous scores you can go here, here or here.

NPS is a commonly used retail metric used in tracking product quality or customer satisfaction. Here, it takes the % of Great Games and subtracts the number of Bad Games. I used Who Scored to determine good/bad.

The philosophy behind this simple measurement is sound. It quickly creates actionable data instead of mulling over average products forever.

Here are how Crew players look over the last 10 games.

Grand TotalNameGames
70%Pedro Santos10
67%Josh Williams3
56%Gyasi Zardes9
40%Harrison Afful10
40%Luis Argudo10
33%Aboubacar K6
33%Jonathan Mensah6
22%Artur9
20%Luis Díaz 10
17%Connor Maloney6
14%Romario Williams7
11%Wil Trapp 9
0%Eloy Room9
0%Alex Crognale8
0%David Accam8
0%David Guzmán4
0%Héctor Jimé4
-20%Youness Mok5


A couple quick notes:

- Only one player in the negative is good for the Crew
- I like what I'm seeing from Diaz