Tuesday, March 24, 2020

How to get PPE to Hospitals



Since the start of the pandemic here in the United States, we have all heard the calls for PPE. Now, PPE is not a term I have ever heard outside of my warehouse employment, particularly Amazon (CMH2, DCM1 AMZL). PPE stands for Personal Protective Equipment.

THE PROBLEM

PPE items are running out or are out at hospitals all across the country. In particular masks, but other basic items that you see healthcare professionals wearing during this event. I'm not terribly concerned with the exact type or model numbers of what is needed here, just the logistics of getting it to the people that desperately need it.

The current set up (if you can call it a set up at all) is not working.

HOW IT WORKS NOW

Everyone orders online. That's basically it. If it can't be delivered then we get the modern "OMG WE ARE OUT." I see this from a lot of younger nurses and doctors - which then gets picked up by the news. The result is that if it isn't available on Amazon or Walmart then there is a global shortage because that's all most people know now.

The truth of the matter is that online shops are not vetting who gets important materials/items and who doesn't. So, it just disappears quickly when it's posted that there is inventory - it is a free for all. This is a problem because the people that need it most don't have time to park themselves on Amazon.

Before the advent of online shopping, we had to call ahead and load up in a car and drive to find it. That's was a giant pain, yes, but (the positive was) stores could easily control who got things and who did not. We are seeing a version of this already with specific hours for seniors.

THE SOLUTION

The US can use physical stores as mini storage centers.

Work with CVS and Walgreens. Supply their physical stores. The government should direct this activity and work directly with the big box stores to stock the areas in most need. Employees at the physical stores (preferably pharmacists) can work directly with the local network of hospitals in the area.

We don't have time to set up some sort of goddamn ERP inventory system before we get this going. Simple phone calls, barcodes, and spreadsheets worked for generations and they will work here.

CVS and Walgreens get a warehousing %. Amazon Delivery, UPS, FedEx, USPS can deliver to the stores, depending on the origin of the items.

CVS and Walgreens vet the buyer before selling the item, ensuring that it goes to where it is most needed.

Between the two stores, there are almost 20,000 locations in the United States.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Inserting an extra layer of governmental control is not something I particularly like, but it's necessary here to ensure PPE and any other items get to the people that need them most. We have the manufacturing capacity in this country to meet demand, especially on paper products. It just requires a little extra admin.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Top Rated Crew Performances

Last week I covered the only perfect "10.0" for Crew players since WhoScored started recording it in 2013, so today I'm just going to list the top 20 Columbus Crew performances since WS started tracking.

YearRoundRatingName
20171210.00Justin Meram
201536-P9.91Kei Kamara
201669.86Justin Meram
2018349.74Gyasi Zardes
201699.62Kei Kamara
2015339.62Federico Higuain
2016129.53Ola Kamara
2016289.50Ola Kamara
2014339.40Aaron Schoenfeld
2015249.39Kei Kamara
2013249.33Federico Higuain
201579.28Ethan Finlay
201835-P9.24Federico Higuain
2013299.20Chad Marshall
201735-P9.20Zack Steffen
2017189.17Federico Higuain
2013279.15Justin Meram
2019169.15Pedro Santos
201339.15Gláuber
201529.13Justin Meram

This is out of 3,553 tracked game performances. That's the top 0.5% listed above. Justin Meram and Federico Higuain are tied at 4 each in the top 20.


Coronavirus and Columbus

Children's Medicine
I reckon a post about what's going on in and around Columbus, Ohio during the Coronavirus pandemic is something I might regret not posting down the road.

CLOSED (and Open)

Restaurants, bars, sporting events, K-12 schools, universities, standing within 6 feet of each other, etc are all closed or canceled. Citizens have been ordered by the governor to stay home. But that's a nice to have. Amazon, Walmart, Target, grocery stores, coffee shops (take out only) are still operational. With the big box stores, their distribution networks are still functional. As a matter of fact, they are growing. That means employees at those cavernous warehouses, delivery drivers, truck drivers, EVERYTHING is still going.

If you travel on the roads you might not notice any difference in traffic at first. It kinda looks like it does when school lets out for the summer. But if look at IT a little closer, especially at peak rush hour times, you can tell it's less. My estimate is about 30-50% fewer cars and trucks on the road.

FEWER CARS, COOLER WEATHER

This probably deserves its own post, but I'll never get to it (if I'm being honest with myself). COLUMBUS IS A SUV CITY. Meaning, huge growth in this town has run alongside the modern sport utility vehicle. What this means is that new roads, city and town planning, EVERYTHING is built around large cars.

Walmart - TP and Paper Towels
Delivering for Amazon really opened my eyes to this. If you haven't been here, Columbus is not so much a "city" as it is a massive collection of suburbs. The go on for seemingly ever. In older suburbs, you see the classic layout with smaller roads and culdesacs. Outside of the smaller houses, one way to tell it's an older community is the number of cars. They are everywhere. Why? The kids you had when you moved in 20 years ago are now teens and you gave them cars.

Newer communities are enormously wide streets that wind safely around. Included are even spots for the giant SUV's that resemble yachts to turn around. I favored these as a delivery driver, but it is incredibly wasteful.

Regardless, Car City Columbus roads are now only about half full and I've noticed a slight change in the weather towards the cooler side.

Weatherman and women are almost always correct these days. They might miss on how long it will rain or the temp by a degree or two, but that's about it. But when I was working a job in 2018 that required me to travel out to Perry County, Ohio a lot I noticed that without fail, it was about 5-8 degrees cooler. This area is only about 30 miles away. That shift in temp might not seem like much but it is. 82 degrees in Columbus was 75 degrees in towns a little East. Or 36 degrees and rain in Columbus was 28 and snowy in New Lexington. It made a difference, and I saw it.

With the weather in Columbus this last week, it was about 5 degrees cooler than the weather people forecasted each day. What that meant is that last Sunday they were saying the week was going to be in the 50's and then by Friday get to 70. Instead, it was 40's Monday to Wednesday with frosty mornings and 50's Thursday. Yesterday (Friday) was correct, but we got a hellish storm that nobody saw coming.

I believe this is because there are fewer cars on the roads. I've always believed that car traffic and impact local weather a great deal and Columbus is a perfect example. Not just the pollution, but the heat coming off the asphalt. Like firing up an oven to heat the house.

ANYWAY

As for our little family of my wife and our 3-year-old, we are doing well. A long-planned trip back (for me) to Virginia is about to happen this coming week. Yesterday was our daughter's last day in daycare (still open) as we start to prep our move.

We spend most of our time in the house "social distancing" with occasional trips to the store. I'll post some pictures of grocery shelves so we don't forget the panic buying that's going on.

Video games, a few movies, writing, soccer analysis, taxes (yay!), and watching government officials on TV is the daily routine.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Meram's Perfect 10.0



WhoScored (WS) has been rating MLS players using Opta data since the beginning of the 2013 season. Nearly 40 different player activities are tracked and recorded for every game, every player. WS assigns a final player rating based on these actions.

In the 250+ games and 3,500 individual performances, there has only been one 10.0 awarded to a Columbus Crew player.

Justin Meram. Back in May of 2017, he recorded a hattrick playing the Impact up in Montreal. His final goal was a game-winner in added time.

Justin owns two of the top 5 WS ratings for Crew players.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

MLS: An Altered Future

The last week has reshaped our world in ways that we quite possibly never imagined. Here in Ohio, they seem to know that the Coronavirus is much more widespread than the official number of confirmed cases (50 as of this writing) because they have now closed just about everything in the state, including schools, for an indefinite amount of time.

MLS, like all the other professional leagues across the globe, have closed their doors, but curiously added a timeframe of 30 days. Given the news at the time, and especially now, 30 days is not in any way a realistic number. The NBA is very open about plans to restart the season and they are not expecting to restart until at least June. And that is without fans.

There are pressures on MLS that might not be on other leagues.

MLS was only able to play two rounds of games. That's only 6% of the regular season. Include the playoffs and it shrinks even further. NBA, NHL, College Basketball conferences all almost made it to their playoffs. If the season is truncated (which I think is likely), they will take an incredible hit. Not just on the TV side, but also on the game-day revenue side. Games will likely have to be canceled.

MLS also doesn't own all the facilities where they play, so a long stoppage will start bumping up against everyone and everything trying to squeeze in their event like concerts, conventions, NFL and College gridiron games, etc. MLS also does not have the resources to pay employees wages during the work stoppage like the other "big four" leagues in the United States.

MLS just doesn't think this will blow over in 30 days. They NEED it to blow over in 30 days. If this lasts longer, MLS investors will have to start getting very creative in how to hold things together until they can start training and playing again.

Best estimates have that happening in June or July. That only gives MLS a few months to cram in as much as they can. I don't see that as an option at this point. So, now what.

I DO NOT BELIEVE MLS WILL RESTART THE 2020 SEASON.

If my hunch is correct, MLS is looking at flipping the calendar. The MLS 2020 Season will become the 2020/21 MLS Season with the season starting in August or September and going to late spring, early summer.

Here are three reasons why:

1. Lines up transfer windows. 
Primary and secondary windows in Europe see completely different amounts of money being spent. Right now MLS is starting their season in the "secondary" window, where the biggest spenders are only looking for a couple players. If MLS wants to join the party they have to switch.

2. LigaMX is merging with MLS.
MLS and LigaMX have made it clear that they want more games vs. each other. It's a mutually beneficial relationship. MLS provides some stability (bottomless pits of money) and some added structure. LigaMX brings passion, fans, and better soccer. Currently, LigaMX plays a Fall - Winter / Winter - Summer schedule. The two leagues already face off during the CCL, various friendlies, and a new summer tournament. Switching the calendar greases the rails for advancing the merger objective.

3. Hot Weather Ruins Games.
Baseball is the perfect summer sport. Soccer is the furthest thing from it. Midfield players can run around 6-8 miles during a match. No timeouts, foul shots, or quarter breaks to give you a blow or reset the players mentality. The league is increasingly moving south. To continue to play games in the summer not only slows the game down to a crawl, but it's also dangerous for players. With a short winter break that lines up with team retooling during the secondary transfer window couldn't fit more perfectly. More games in reasonable weather, including the playoffs and league final, is a no brainer that easily offsets a few December and February inconveniences. With more teams in warm/moderate weather, they can be scheduled around, anyway.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

MLS Suspends Season

I'll have more thoughts on this soon, but this should get it's own post. MLS is suspending the season for 30 days. It's interesting that they put a timeframe on it, but anyhow:

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Major League Soccer has suspended all games, effective immediately, for 30 days, the league announced Thursday as it continues to assess the impact of COVID-19 (the coronavirus).

Read the full statement:
Major League Soccer has suspended match play for 30 days, effective immediately, as the league continues to assess the impact of COVID-19 with its medical task force and public health officials. 
At the appropriate time, the league and clubs will communicate plans for the continuation of the 2020 season and update the status of league events. 
“Our clubs were united today in the decision to temporarily suspend our season – based on the advice and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), and other public health authorities, and in the best interest of our fans, players, officials and employees,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber. “We’d like to thank our fans for their continued support during this challenging time.”
The MLS announcement comes in the wake of the NBA suspending its season on Wednesday night. Prior to the suspension of the MLS season, two MLS matches scheduled for March 21 had already been postponed in Seattle and San Jose as measures are taken to contain COVID-19, which to date has seen over 1,000 confirmed cases in the U.S.

Earlier this week, eMLS Cup, which was scheduled to take place on March 21 in Austin, was postponed following the cancelation of South by Southwest.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Crew are Playing - Don't Go

Jay Inslee, Governor of the State of Washington, is expected to announce today that he will be banning events that have gatherings of more than 250 people. This includes sporting events.

Now, a governor "banning" gatherings is a pretty big deal in the United States. Many US citizens believe that they can make their own decisions on what they attend and what they don't. There are others that might take a more legally minded approach to it and say that it is outright illegal to make such a ban.

As much as it might make some sense to ban events in favor of "social distancing," I do not think this is something a governor can enforce. Yesterday, here in Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine made suggestions and recommendations. Perhaps that's the way to go? I'm not sure.

That said: With all the information available to us, I do not think it is a good idea to be going to sporting events (or any large gatherings). Young and old. This includes the Crew home game this weekend.

You, dear reader, are young and strong and can fight off any super-duper virus that you get. I'm sure of it. But, in a few week's time I will be in Virginia with my 80+-year-old father. I am going to be taking as few risks as possible over the next few weeks to reduce the chances of getting the Coronavirus. Not because I think I'll get ill, but because I know that it is possible that I could make someone else gravely ill.

MLS will not make decisions to postpone games or otherwise do anything that will hurt revenue. You have to do that yourself.

It would be wonderful if Dr. Pete Edwards, part Operator of the Columbus Crew and someone I'm sure knows better, came out and recommended to MLS the game be postponed to later in the year.

The data out there tells us that reducing the "spike" in cases is the best thing we can do. That means it might be a little uncomfortable for a few weeks via social distancing, but ultimately, it will get under control and minimize the impact on communities.

The Crew are already the last team to have played in Seattle before a serious lockdown on events. That's a bit scary in and of itself. If MLS doesn't do anything this weekend, I would say as a red-blooded make your own decisions American...

...do not go.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

COVID-19: Crew Still Open for Business

Last night the San Jose Earthquakes found out that Santa Clara County officials do not want gatherings of more than 1,000 people until early next month. What this means is that at least one home MLS game will be either played in front of no fans or postponed to a later date.

At this time - No other MLS team is under mass gathering restrictions nor have any taken it upon themselves to take important measures similar to events in Santa Clara County to minimize the spread of the Coronavirus.

That said, just today, the Columbus Crew issued a statement as to what is happening this weekend. The game is being played as normal. There are no major changes to the game except for adding hand sanitizer and removing "non-essential pre-match, halftime and post-match activations (whatever that means).

The timing of this Crew statement is likely because Ohio State University has decided to keep students out of classrooms for the next few weeks.

The loss of game-day revenue for MLS over a number of weeks would be devastating. They will continue to have games in front of fans for as long as they can. As of this post, both Italy and Spain have decided to play closed-door matches.

Below is the full statement from the Columbus Crew:

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COLUMBUS — Columbus Crew SC announced today that Saturday’s home match against Real Salt Lake (5:00 p.m. ET) remains scheduled to be played as planned.

Columbus Crew SC, along with Major League Soccer and its other member clubs, have been closely monitoring the Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation and will continue to do so. Major League Soccer’s task force has been regularly communicating with MLS clubs regarding appropriate measures to take as the situation continues to evolve.

The health and safety of the players, staff and supporters are of utmost importance. Crew SC and MAPFRE Stadium, through their dedicated task force, will continue to work with relevant governmental agencies and Major League Soccer to monitor the situation and react as necessary throughout the week.

MAPFRE Stadium undergoes a detailed cleaning procedure before and after every match or event. Many parts of the stadium, including high-traffic areas, will receive extra cleaning prior to and during Saturday's match.

Additionally, Crew SC will have the following protocols in place for the match:

- Hand sanitizers available in restrooms, guest services and first-aid locations.
- Attendants in both the men's and women's restrooms to regularly clean surfaces.
- Non-essential pre-match, halftime and post-match activations will be temporarily postponed.

Additional information on COVID-19, including health tips, news updates and other resources, is available via the Ohio Department of Health. Guests attending Saturday's match are encouraged to frequently wash their hands and avoid contact with their eyes, nose and mouth.

Should they choose to do so, Crew SC Season Ticket Members can take advantage of the Club's ticket-exchange program by contacting their Account Services Representative prior to the upcoming match.

For additional updates, please continue to monitor www.ColumbusCrewSC.com and all team social media accounts at @ColumbusCrewSC.
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As I mentioned before the last game the Crew played away in Seattle: THIS GAME SHOULD NOT HAVE FANS ATTENDING. The best thing to do is postpone it. Postpone them all until at least the beginning of April.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Crew Rd 2, Couldn't See It - Order of Star Wars

I couldn't watch the game. I cut my sports package from ATT U-verse, ESPN+ blacked it out and it wasn't available on Youtube. I did a quick search for an illegal stream and found nothing. I kept up with live updates in the usual places, but that's about it. I do have a couple of observations, I'll put them at the bottom. On to more important things:

STAR WARS WATCH ORDER

With that, instead of being able to evaluate play I'm going to list out the order of which my 3.5 year old has watched Star Wars. Is that too young? I'm not sure! My wife had never seen the original series and was curious. We fired it up and our daughter was interested, so we let her watch (well, as much as a 3 yo. watches things).

We did it over the course of a couple days. Sometimes it was background noise, but most of the time it got our undivided attention (all these on Disney+).

1. Rogue One
2. Star Wars (A New Hope)
3. Empire Strikes Back
4. Return of the Jedi

I feel this is the "correct way" to watch given the way things fall now. Rogue One refreshingly ties directly into A New Hope.

This had me thinking of the way I saw Star Wars. And honestly, I can't remember exactly. I grew up in the country, far from any movie screen. Here is my best guess.

1. Empire Strikes Back (home video, mid-80s)
1a. [parts of A New Hope] (TV/home video, mid-80s)
2. Return of the Jedi (home video?, late 80s)
3. A New Hope (all the way through, home video, late 80s)

It's weird that I can't remember ever really sitting though one until probably Jedi. I was around 10 at that time so I was the right age. Thinking back, Star Wars seemed ever-present. Like, you absorbed everything instead of experience it. Also, I saw it as "my older brother's thing." He is 7 years older than me. Star Wars seemed "70s." I was more into GIJOE, He-Man, Gummie Bears, etc. It wasn't until the released a 3 VHS set in the early 90s that I really watched them.

BACK TO THE CREW

Notable: Caleb Porter was pretty fired up after the game saying things like "this proves we can play with anyone" type things. He's not wrong, but man is he burning hot 2 weeks into the season. A stark contrast to Berhalter. Pace yourself Caleb. Long season ahead, that might include managing an epidemic.

Stats Check-in: Seattle seemed to control the game. 10 shots on frame to 4 for the Crew. The also had over 100 more passing attempts (which is how possession is calculated). Seattle had 37!?! crosses. Which is nuts. Try something else maybe?

Gyasi Zardes was the highest-rated WhoScored player. His 7.70 is tied for 782 best individual Crew score since 2014.

That's it, hope I can watch the next one! Who knows!

Saturday, March 7, 2020

COVID-19: Crew Shouldn't Play Tonight

A stadium employee that worked the February 22 XFL game at CenturyLink Field (where the Columbus Crew are playing tonight) tested positive this week for the Coronavirus.

Before we go further: The likelihood of anyone contracting the virus is low and even if they do contract it, the effects the virus carries are apparently similar to the common flu.

That is not the issue, however. If the timing of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Ohio happens to be next week, most will only remember that it came after a sports team visited the stadium where an employee had it. That impacts everything from team brand to ticket sales (no way my wife and 3 year old are going to a game right now, as it is).

The hysteria building around this virus is already impacting just about everything around us. From airports emptying to empty shelves of hand sanitizer. The actual effects of the virus or the likelihood of getting it do not matter, it's the fear. 

Much of the fear is being stoked by mass media (social media as well). Local news here in Columbus leads with it. The national news on CBS, NBC, ABC lead with it. Fear of a virus is a story that pops up any time we enter a slow news part of the calendar. The fact that they have one now that is new and trackable (modern technology!) is making this a hysteria that will only build in the coming weeks and even months.

In a warehouse environment, you do risk assessments all the time. Especially when implementing new processes. If the result of risk is devastating (ie. DEATH or Putting the company out of business) to the company and it is more than 0.0% chance of happening - you do not do it (and come up with something else).

The Columbus Crew simply cannot withstand what would happen if a player or staff member got the virus while in Seattle at CenturyLink. That risk is too great, even if the chances of it happening are very small.

Any dip in attendance, which impacts brand penetration, which destroys just about all revenue - is very, very bad for the team (and MLS).

SOLUTIONS

My personal opinion is the game should not be played, but they will play it because this is AMERICA DAMNIT. And that's fine. I good solution would be to move the game to another venue tonight or just postpone it till later this year.

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As far as official statements, King County (Seattle, WA) leaders are "in continuous dialogue with regional health authorities and Major League Soccer, in addition to our network of medical experts. Because of this, we are proceeding with Saturday's match, and Sounders FC is following the updated guidelines that were released on Wednesday by Public Health — Seattle & King County."

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An interactive map that shows where the Coronavirus is currently: Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by Johns Hopkins CSSE

Monday, March 2, 2020

Quick Note: Zelarayán's WS Performance

Looking at all the Columbus Crew games from the start of 2018 till now (72 games), Lucas Zelarayán's performance was tied for 10th best performance as rated by WhoScored.

Rating : Name, Year - Round
9.74 : Gyasi Zardes, 2018 - 34
9.24 : Federico Higuaín, 2018 - 35 (playoffs)
9.15 : Pedro Santos, 2019 - 16
8.90 : Gyasi Zardes, 2018 - 12
8.69 : Pedro Santos, 2019 - 24
8.60 : Federico Higuaín, 2018 - 12
8.57 : Gyasi Zardes, 2019 - 29
8.44 : Zack Steffen, 2019 - 2
8.43 : Federico Higuaín, 2019 - 12
8.41 : Lalas Abubakar, 2018 - 13
8.41 : Lucas Zelarayán, 2020 - 1

Generally speaking, anything over 8.00 is an outstanding night.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Crew Win '20 Opener, 3 Things (+1)


Opening weekend is here for the 2020 MLS season and much has changed across the entire league (again). More teams, brand new venues, changed rules, a new CBA, a Mexican initiative, the list goes on. But! Let us not carry that weight into what is finally here. Another Crew season filled with hopes and dreams of the forever optimistic Ohio Sports fan faithful.

CREW WIN

At the bottom of this post will be some site housekeeping notes about coverage but for now... Let's get right to it. MY THREE THINGS

1. Jordan Angeli
Let's start with the booth. It's selfish of me, but as a long-suffering vet of MLS broadcasts this one is important. The former U20 USWNT standout and NWSL player was great. More than great, really. She read the game. She corrected Neil Sika, she genuinely got excited about skillful play OTHER than goals. She noted key moments in action that happened a few passes or tackles previous to positive action. She gets it. She was comfortable. Both Dwight Burgess (who she replaced) and Sika (who is paired with her now) were "Crew people" more than announcers. The game sometimes seemed to be a distraction from picking favorite players, selling the next game ticket package or rattling off Wiki notes on each player on the opposing team. Too comfortable. Too stale. Angeli is a breath of fresh air. If you were at that game and still haven't heard her, you are in for a treat.

2. Early Reds Ruin Games
The Red Card handed out in the 4th minute threw a wet blanket on things. Anytime this happens you know that you have already read the script of what's to come. To the letter of the law, yeah. It was a red. But in the first game of the season, within 5 minutes? Ahh, let it go. Let's have 11v11. That said, NYCFC looked good and organized in their role and the Crew looked pretty impressive in working the ball around, trying to get a good shot. Pedro Santos probably should have had one there early on. It would have put this game to bed in the first 30 minutes. Later, Luis Diaz missed a sitter. All in all, for the 1st game of the season, both teams should be alright with how it went down.

3. Crew Player Callouts
Lucas Zelarayan looked great. He plays with joy. He's also crafty in that he seems to know what the opponent in front of him will do, even if it isn't obvious. It happened on the goal when he took the touch towards goal and also another time when he won the ball from behind a CB in the 18. Milton Valenzuela. Wow. The knee injury has done nothing to slow him down. He looked fantastic in attack and defense. He was always where he should be. Artur and Nagbe looked fine in the first Crew game without Wil Trapp on the roster since October 2012.


(+1) GENERAL TEAM THOUGHTS

With way too much MLS watched this weekend it's easy to say Columbus looked like one of the good teams. Organized, motivated, not arguing with each other, in shape. But, it could be argued, that came against a 10 man team for 85 minutes. Still though. LOTS of bad teams in MLS this year. Crew were among them last year. It doesn't appear that way this year.

HOUSEKEEPING

We here at Helltown have tried different things over the years as far as covering the games. My personal favorite was when I wrote a graph or two about each half and then summed things up. I may try that again this year. We'll see. For now It'll just be a 3 things, uh, thing.

As I have since 2010, I will continue tracking player scores on my own rating system as well as keeping tabs on advanced stats and what's going on over at WhoScored.

Thanks for reading. Looking forward to a great season. My 11th writing about the Crew here at Helltown.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Hey, a Preseason Crew Game

MLS has kept most of the preseason action off of screens across the country this year, so the first time we get to see the Crew is just a couple weeks out from season start. Last night the Crew took on Phoenix Rising FC in the opening match of the 2020 Visit Tucson Sun Cup in Tucson.

One game is about four short of what I need to get a good idea of the overall quality of any team, but there are things we can pull that tell us what direction the team is going. So, here we go:

THE GOOD
1. The team looked fairly energetic. Sometimes these preseason games can be flat.
2. Organized. There is a risk, at least from my point of view, that the players won't respond well to Porter's ways. I didn't sense frustration.
3. Room looked solid in goal. Had a couple big saves.

THE NOT AS GOOD
1. Play was chaotic. A lot of that is early preseason stuff, but after years of Berhalter we've been spoiled by the Crew have a style of play. I didn't see that last night.
2. Zelarayan - for what the Crew paid, you expect him to stand out. Phoenix is a good team, but players like Zelarayan should shine in these games. Late assists in preseason games can come from any quality of player.
3. I still don't think the Crew are going to score much with Zardes up top. I think with Adi in there they have a couple goals when it was strength on strength lineups.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: ZELARAYAN

I've started to put together my Eastern Conference preseason ratings for teams (like last year) and of course, I'm starting with Columbus. A lot of that time has been spent trying to figure out where Zelarayan falls on the player quality scale because what I'm finding is that he isn't an A+ or even a B+ player in CONCACAF like I thought he was (and like his fee dictates).

Where I find myself putting Zelarayan is somewhere between Pedro Santos and Federico Higuain. I know the team wants the next Higuain (who was the next GBS), but between available data online (which is a lot!) and what I saw last night, I'm not seeing it. Higuain had a maturity and "presence" on the pitch that Zelarayan did not have last night. One game, but I still remember Higuain's first few times out and you could definitely sense that there was an outstanding player and person out there.

Columbus went big on Zelarayan. The fee paid suggests a player a degree or two better than any player to have ever put on a Crew kit. A lot to live up to. It's way, way early to start asking questions. But it isn't too early to make a note of it.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Fixing the NBA

A few weeks ago the powers that be floated a few different ideas to help improve the current competition format of 82 games + 7 game playoffs. The fact that that they are talking openly about it sets off a few alarm bells, but it also tells us how severe some of their current format problems might be impacting fan interest.

1st, let's list off a few problems:

1. 82 game season is too long
Teams have started a kind of rotation for players meaning that there are a lot of nights that the star players might not be on the floor. This dovetails into another issue with 82 games... most of the games don't matter all that much.

2. A playoff series can get stale
Watching the first couple rounds of the playoffs can be a grind. The players, coaches and fans know who the better team is in the first couple rounds. Much of the proceedings are mostly formal. Sure an injury here or there can change it, but even in a close series, we know the winner. There were 82 dang games to sort it out!

3. Tanking/Last picks 1st-ish
When you have a 30 team league and the best way to get better is trying your luck at the lottery system by tanking the season, you have a real problem. Outside of star players sitting out games already, you have nights where teams are taking on zombies.

SOLUTION!

We'll do the best teams first: Top 8 teams from each conference play in 4 team groups. Winners from the 4 groups play in a playoff-style tournament (7 game series is fine).

So, how would that look right now:

East Group 1
#1 Bucks
#8 Magic
#3 Celtics
#6 Pacers

East Group 2
#2 Raptors
#7 Nets
#4 Heat
#5 76ers

------------------------

West Group 1
#1 Lakers
#8 Grizzlies
#3 Clippers
#6 Mavericks

West Group 2
#2 Nuggets
#7 Thunder
#4 Jazz
#5 Rockets

Each group will play a double-round robin. That's 6 total games for each team in the group stage. Whoever has the best record advances on the 5 or 7 game series "final 4."

SOLUTION FOR THE BOTTOM DWELLERS

With the top 8 in each conference in the playoffs, the question becomes, what to do with the bottom 7.

It's simple and Adam Silver gets his midseason tournament.

1. The last-place team is replaced by the best G-League team (I don't care if they play in a barn). More on this at the bottom.

2. With the remaining 6 teams (#9 - #15) have a bracket-style tournament to determine the draft order the next season.

3. The winner of each conf bracket will play each other in the final for the #1 pick.

I'm not sure anyone is satisfied with "The Lottery" as it is in its current form. I suppose you could still have one based on the results of this tournament, but I'd rather not. Good players shouldn't be stuck on bad teams. Fans want to see good players be, you know, good. How many careers have we been robbed of?

WHAT'S GOOD ABOUT IT

Makes games in the regular season matter a bit more while retaining the traditional 82 game format, shortens the useless grind that is the 1st round of the playoffs (while not losing inventory), and give poor/middling teams something to play for in the middle of the season.

Everyone will be playing for something. Top to bottom.

ON THE G-LEAGUE

Legally, it may be difficult to drop a team out of the NBA, so either owners would have to be on board with that OR the NBA would have to bring the G-League in closer to the mother ship (basically an NBA-2 league, legally).

I love this idea because it gives the NBA a way to expand into growing markets and do it without a lot of risk. It'll also help stabilize the G League a bit. Grow interested in none NBA areas and give fans a great reason to watch. I think with the popularity of basketball in this country, the G-League itself could have lots more teams and tiers.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

There Will Never Be Another Trapp

Wil Trapp was unceremoniously sent to the expansion side Miami last Friday. The deal was shockingly one-sided in favor of Miami as they only gave up a bit of allocation money and an international slot for one of the most consistent Defensive Mids in MLS.

These types of deals are usually seen when you have a player with a bad attitude or just simply wants out. While Trapp did appear frustrated at many points last season, I don't think it drifted into "bad attitude" territory. I think he likely wanted out. Caleb Porter, being Caleb Porter, probably wanted to teach him a bit of a lesson as the walked out the door. No inside info, just my two cents.

He checked off all the boxes as far as accomplishments in MLS and with the USMNT. He won an Eastern Conference Playoff trophy, played in a final at home, and became Captain of the Men's National Team under Gregg Berhalter. That's quite a career for any player.

There are criticisms. He's a bit slow. Maybe too conservative in his passing. He doesn't like to get forward. Against higher quality competition he would sometimes look pretty bad, giving off the appearance of a concrete ceiling.

There was also his value to the team him challenging himself. These two, in particular, have been my sticking points with him for years.

In an alternate universe, Wil moved overseas before the age of 21. Spain, most likely, fits his game the best. But time in England would have made him a little more hungry, aggressive. I saw him playing overseas until around the age of 28 (where he is now) and coming back to MLS via a nice fee and $1-2 million dollar salary.

Instead, he stuck it out in his hometown. Whether that was Mark McCullers, Gregg Berhalter, or whoever making decisions during that time refused to sell him or it was just Trapp being picky about his landing place. We'll never really know.

In the decade of the 2010's, Trapp played the most postseason minutes with 1440. Over that same period, he was 2nd only to Higuain in total minutes (17,374). Put another way, he was rock solid and you'd be safe buying his jersey.

There's no hiding the fact that I, and others that have written here at Helltown wanted him to move on from Columbus when he was in his early 20s. Fact is though, he didn't and the career he had here was nice. But there are many other things that make him a special player in Crew land.

You rarely, if ever, get a local player of his quality playing on his hometown team. On top of that, he (and his family) are wonderful people. Everyone here seems to know them. Lastly, he's a really good dude. All these things add up to a great person. And it's in that, where you see his true quality and value.

If you've followed this blog over the last decade, you know that I dig pretty deep on player evaluations and other measurements. Often using player comparisons like "player Y is similar to player X." I do that because there is almost always another similar player.

But in all my time and all my damn spreadsheets, I never found another player like Trapp because of the rarity of what he is as a person and what that means to the team. His stats? KPs, recoveries, tackles, etc? Yes, plenty similar. But add in the local kid making it big all the way to the NT (where is salary was often a mere fraction of his teammates)? No.

There will never be another player like Wil Trapp in Columbus.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Another New Crew on the Way


...and away we go. From Michael Arace and the Columbus Dispatch, this morning:
"Sources close to the Crew's front office have told The Dispatch that the team is thinking seriously about changing its name, colors and logo by the time its new stadium opens in the summer of 2021. Changing to what? The best guess here is they don't know yet and they are using a Frank Luntz focus group to figure it out."
It's not terribly surprising that a new group operating any team wants to make their own mark. The Hunt family brought in the original logo, Anthony Precourt left his mark and now the Haslam's want to have their own identity.

Since the publication of Arace's piece this morning I've seen a couple plugged in folks (namely J.D. Smith and Beau Bishop from 97.1 The Fan) walk back the initial report of changes coming to all aspects of the team identity.

There have been reports since last year that the team registered "columbuscityfc.com" that has made folks a little uneasy, so today's news will not come as a surprise to some.

MLS is littered with teams that take on some of the identity of their NFL Fathers. Seattle, Atlanta, and New England all borrow directly with a good deal of success. It makes sense that owners might want some vertical alignment there. It immediately breeds familiarity and comfort level, especially when a change of colors means you are associated with a rival NFL team. Which is the case with the Crew and the Steelers.

Frank Luntz, the man behind this conversation, is no idiot. He's an experienced pollster (GOP) and has been working in sports for a number of years now. He's intelligent and is able to look past many of the obvious things fans might cling to. If you are interested in more on him and his thoughts on sport's markets, head HERE.

Some of Luntz's thoughts on Cincinnati:
"Cincinnati?
Luntz: Cincinnati and Cleveland may come from the same state, but a very different attitude. Cleveland is defeatist: “We are hoping for next year, but I know we will lose again. I know we will lose again.” Cincinnati is, “I am hoping for next year because I am hoping for a breakthrough.” … Cincinnati is another town that knows its traditions. They won’t just answer me based on what is happening today but what happened 20 years ago, 30 years ago. … Boston fans do that a lot. I feel like a group of Boston fans could be on ESPN, Fox Sports 1 and do as well as the commentators. They know their stuff and they know multiple sports; Cincinnati knows multiple sports."

MY THOUGHTS ON THE CHANGE

My own personal thoughts on the badge and branding for the Crew remains the same as it has since this wild rollercoaster got going back in 2012 when rumors of the team being up for sale came up -

Have the team wear blank black uniforms for three years until a brand forms organically. If that means one of the old logos? Okay. It that means NFL Browns colors. Fine. I don't get the hurry. I feel that a transitional period would sell a lotta jerseys. Have the logo be an empty shield with a white and gold outline.

I think have a singular, narrow brand identity is sort of a thing of the past. It comes from challenges in printing and clothing manufacturing. You do want to have a stable brand, but it shouldn't be so sacred that you can't keep it fresh.

Today's news was likely a mini-trial ballon put up by Luntz to measure the impact of a potential branding change. Social media here in Columbus by the regulars was predictable. What's not predictable is the people living in the outer rings of Columbus fandom. There are much more of the latter, than the former. Luntz wants to pry open their brains.

He'll get there.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

It Moved with the Land

Yesterday, I watched the Pixar movie "Cars" for the first time. After being certain I had watched it before, I found myself mumbling "I don't remember any of this" during its entire runtime.

There was a moment in it towards the end where the main character and a friend have a conversation about the changes in culture over the years in regards to the introduction to the interstate system.

Sally Carrera: Yeah. Back then, cars came across the country a whole different way.
Lightning McQueen: How do you mean? [The screen then goes to a flashback showing an aerial view of some traffic driving along Route 66 as Sally starts talking.]
Sally Carrera: Well, the road didn't cut through land like that Interstate. It moved with the land, you know? It rose, it fell, it curved. [The screen then shows at ground level as it moves from side to side beside the road with traffic going by.]
Folk: Mornin'! Nice day, huh?
Sally Carrera: [narrating] Cars didn't drive on it to make a great time. They drove on it to have a great time.

The line "It moved with the land... It rose, it fell, it curved," was something I thought a lot about today when watching Tranmere Rovers host Manchester United on a battle scorned pitch.

Muddy pitches are just about a thing of the past in today's professional soccer, but you see them pop up every once in a while. They died out back in the 90's in most of the civilized world and today we have beautifully smooth, impeccably green pitches to play on. Some of that can be chalked up to advances in, well, gardening. The other part of that is the implementation of a synthetic/real grass pitch combo.

Having a perfect pitch is great, but when I was watching Manchester United play on that muddy surface at Tranmere I remember that you use to be able to tell the time of year by most pitches. At the start you would have perfectly green surfaces but, like life, as fall and winter came, you started to see the wear. Spring would arrive and some of the green would return. It was a cycle.

It had me thinking of the "Cars" scene above.

"It moved with the land, you know?"

We'll never get back to terrible fields of mud, but there is possibly a finer thing that we lost when we lost those imperfect surfaces. They might have been ugly, but it marked time. It was part of the people. Part of the city. It told an incredible story.

Driving this further home with me today was the sudden and unexpected passing of Kobe Bryant and his daughter in the time I was putting together my little thoughts here. Life, with all of its twists, turns, ups, and downs, is nothing like those perfectly manicured synthetic/grass pitches. It's much more like that Tranmere pitch today. I feel that we should embrace what we have and the seasons of our lives. We all have to do it. We all come from the same place and wind up the same way. It's such an indescribably amazing and fragile thing.

Perhaps one day we won't always be looking for the perfect way and instead look for the best way.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

5 Things To Improve Crew Broadcasts

Changes are coming to MLS local TV broadcasts and it means that you will likely no longer have a local team calling the games (Dwight Burgess and Neil Sika here in Columbus).

What I'm hearing is that, in an effort to sweeten the pot a bit, MLS will be bundling up all team broadcasts and selling it to the highest TV bidder (likely ESPN+, for local games). This means what you experience will be much more like the NFL or EPL in that there will be a dozen broadcast teams calling games each weekend as opposed to having a TV team for every team.

This makes sense as the league expands beyond 26 teams. As it stands now, on any given league weekend with, say, 30 teams, you would have 30 broadcasting teams. Some away teams travel, most do not and call games from a TV feed (which sucks). Along with that MLS requires each team to secure some sort of local broadcast deal themselves which leads to a wild landscape in terms of quality.

That will most likely change here as soon as next year when MLS's tv rights are re-negotiated. I do expect MLS to force local teams to maintain their broadcasting capabilities (cameras and everything required), and perhaps even have them sell ad space.

So, with changes on the horizon. What better time to discuss ways to improve the look and feel of the Crew on TV at home at Crew Stadium as well as the new stadium going in next year.

Here we go!

1. Move the main stand camera up higher.
Opens up the pitch and looks less like a basketball or football game. MLS is plagued by this as most stadiums they played in were, in fact, NFL stadiums and they used their camera nests or whatever they call them. It was sold as wanting to show the action and instead of being too far away and lulling people to sleep. Showing action up close has never worked for the league and the constant camera movement gives you a headache. Another way to think about this is in terms of the evolution of the US viewer. They are watching more and more games outside MLS that have better views as well as playing on of the most sold video games year after year in EA's FIFA. Americans get the game. No need for gimmicks.

2. Add cameras directly behind the goals, in the stands
Shows buildups, defensive movement. Opens up the pitch and describes the action a lot better.



3. Have cell phones and DSLR's all over the sidelines, where possible
More and more I see footage from people right on the sidelines, often opposite of the ad-boards. They capture wonderful moments, up close and personal, after goals or from behind free kicks. This should be all over social media or in-game recaps. It's raw and emotional, often.


4. Always find players during stoppages
I do not understand why local broadcasts do not do this. Lack of cameras? The NFL has the luxury of tons of downtime to show players and coaches, but if anything, this is where MLS needs to pull from. Free kicks, goal kicks, player injuries, cats running onto the pitch. Show me the players. They are always up to something. Also, it helps fans with familiarity. No helmets hiding their faces.

5. Allow the broadcast to breathe
Before and after the game. Players let their emotions run free before and especially after. Follow them around. It could be guys just talking to each other. Or another jogging straight for the locker room. Or, wondering over to thank the support. Just let the camera talk and walk and tell the cackling idiots on the broadcast to shut up.




Next up is how to improve viewership on replays and highlight videos. I promise it is simple and incredible.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Playing with 10 + Zardes

Yesterday, I jumped into the USL to see if I could tease out a Forward player or two that might fit into the 2020 Columbus Crew roster. The reasoning behind this might not have been made clear to a few fans, so here's a look at a few reasons as to why the Crew could do with adding a forward.

Everything branches off this:

Zardes does not help in the final third. Not in the attack (outside of himself being a target) nor in keeping in possession in the opponents half. Evidence:

1. ASSISTS
Ranked 22 out of 27 MLS Forwards in Assists per 90 minutes for players with over 10 appearances last year. In 2018 he didn't record a single assist in 3200 minutes of play.

2. PASSING
He's not involved. 29th out of 32 in total passes per 90 minutes among like players. What this works out to be is about 12-13 total good passes per game (5 incomplete). Missing over 25% of his passes puts him 23/33 MLS forwards.

3. TOUCH
For every accurate pass he makes (12.6 per game) he either loses the ball or is dispossessed 3.5 times a game. That ratio of successful passes to losing the ball puts him 25th out of 33 MLS Forwards.

------------------
Individually, Gyasi is good in front of the goal. Two years ago under Gregg Berhalter's cross everything into the box offense, he proved that with service he could finish. But under Caleb Porter, we saw a player that had loads of chances but could only put away 10 goals from open play, while the team's 3rd leading scorer had 2 goals, it was a tie between four players, two of which are central defenders. In my opinion, looking at my three things above, a lot of the drop off is on Zardes.

In some ways, it's like playing with only 10 men for most of the match.

The reasoning for looking for a better ball-playing tall forward for Columbus was an attempt to try and fill in the holes in Zardes' game. Offer more in the attack for other players (less predictable) as well as get a head on balls crossed in.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Forwards for Columbus, USL

At my fingertips is 95,760 cells of glorious spreadsheet USL data that I have been trying to mine for the past week or so in front of the 2020 domestic season. Why? Because I think there is a fresh well of solid talent that doesn't get the time of day. I've been looking at USL players since I started writing about soccer back in 2010 and many of the players I've found end up have excellent careers.

The rarity of players jumping from the USL to MLS was covered recently over at The Athletic. The question was asked as to why it doesn't happen much and nobody really came to a solid conclusion. 

But I know why! 

MLS sees the USL as "minor league" - and it is, but not because it's classified as such by US Soccer. It's because the competition is wonky and ever-changing. It's very difficult to get your hands around it. I also think that MLS wrestles with its position in the global game. When they are buying players from Argentina, Mexico, and Europe a signing a USL player seems like a big let down. Which I get, but perhaps MLS should recalibrate.

A few years ago the USL bought into Opta to record activity on the pitch and make it public for folks like me. I think this has helped the relationship between the USL and MLS. If you look at attacking activity like non-penalty goals + assists per 90 minutes you'll see that the leaders in the USL the last couple years are bubbling up to MLS teams.

To give you a few examples from just last year, here are the best NPG+A guys in the league and where they are now:

NPG+A per 90 : Name, Age

1.19 : Brian Brown, 27
Jamaican player picked up by an Albanian 1st Tier team FK Partizani
1.08 : Douglas Martínez, 22
With Real Salt Lake now. One of my best USL players.
0.93 : Tom Barlow, 24
With the NY Red Bulls. Saw playoff action recently.
0.91 : Junior Flemmings, 23
Another former Red Bull player, LW. I'm very high on him as well. Helped Phoenix have a great year.

All good players, but their recent career trajectory is pretty predictable when you consider is basically due to their NPG+A performance. Lazy.

For me, there's a lot more to the game and thankfully Opta and the USL give us that data.

COLUMBUS NEEDS A FORWARD

And a SuperDraft pick isn't it. 

I'm going to get very specific here and recommend a couple players for the Columbus Crew SC to look at to play a role on the team. Zardes, for me, is good at finding space in front of goal to head a cross in, but that is about it. He also needs to be challenged. So here are 2 USL players to do just that.

1. Wojciech Wojcik, 27
Woj Woj(?) is tops in more of my key performance metrics than any other player in the USL last year. He's my 27th over best in Defensive Activity and 28th in Attacking Activity. At 6'3" he's able to win the ball and be a contributor in the attack. As a center forward he was 37th overall in duels won, 24th in the air. On the attacking side, he was 22nd in assists, 32nd in Shots on Target and 18th in NPG+A per 90. Limited minutes (1200) was the only thing keeping him from gaudy stats. But in that short time he had 4 assists (21 key passes) and 7 goals. If you watch him on youtube you'll find him a bit heavy when with the ball, but look more closely and you'll find an intelligent player. He knows where to go with the ball.

2. Robert Kristo, 26
Another 6'4" player that was fairly limited in action last year, but in just less than 900 minutes of play he had 9 goals from open play, 2 assists, and 11 key passes. More impressively, perhaps, is he was able to average over 2 shots on target per 90 minutes for 2nd best in the league. Oh, his 9 goals in 900 mins? Best in the league for players over that much. Something else is that he was best, as a per 90, in duels.  Number One in both total duels won as well as ariel duels won. To cap all this off... the Columbus Crew drafted this player in 2015. Berhalter wanted him, but he never signed with Columbus because he was with a 2nd tier side in Italy. The couple years have seen him bouncing around the 2nd tier in Italy and Germany before coming back to having an impressive short stint with North Carolina's USL team.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

USL Best: Ball Winning Playmakers

This is a look at USL Championship midfield players that are good defensively as well as strong in the attack. I realize that this is being very specific, as opposed to just looking at "best passer" or "most goals," but ball-winning / defensively active midfield players are an extremely rare beast. Especially in the United States.

Usually what you see in MLS or USL are mids that are either good at winning the ball and then distribution OR attacking activity. I was looking for both here.

The Defensive categories I took into consideration (per 90):
1. Interceptions
2. Tackles Won
3. Duels Won
4. Ariel Duels Won

Attacking Activity considered (per 90):
1. Assists
2. Key Passes
3. Shots on Target
4. Non-Penalty Goals + Assists

After ranking every player in the USLC, I teased out the players with the best average rank between my Defensive and Attacking activities.

Here are the highest-rated midfield players:


NameAgePOSValueHighest LevelNationality
Eryk Williamson22CM342kMLSUnited States
Carl Haworth30RW285kUSLCCanada/Wales
Wal Fall27CM257kUSLCGermany/Senegal
Leo Fernandes28LM228kMLSBrazil
Harry Forrester29LW314kEng. ChampEngland
Kris Tyrpak27RW200kMLSUnited States
Marcus Epps25RW342kMLSUnited States



NameNPG+Ap90KPp90SOTp90
Eryk Williamson0.642.120.60
Carl Haworth0.502.030.70
Wal Fall0.251.471.00
Leo Fernandes0.492.460.60
Harry Forrester0.331.430.70
Kris Tyrpak0.750.641.20
Marcus Epps0.321.431.20



NameStrength 1Strength 2Strength 3
Eryk WilliamsonAssistsKey PassesOverall Attacking
Carl HaworthKey Passes
Wal FallDuels WonOverall DefenderGood Passer
Leo FernandesAssistsKey PassesOverall Defender
Harry ForresterDuels WonTackles Won
Kris TyrpakNPG+A per 90Shots on TargetTackles Won
Marcus EppsShots on TargetDuels Won



NameAgePOSNotes
Eryk Williamson22CMDCU Ac., Maryland, PDXII/Portland Timbers
Carl Haworth30RW2012 MLS Pick, with Ottawa Fury from 13-19
Wal Fall27CM10 Years in German ac./lower level teams, J. Jones cousin
Leo Fernandes28LMWith Phil Union '13-17, Tampa since
Harry Forrester29LWA decade in England/Scotland
Kris Tyrpak27RWin MLS 2014-15, USL since
Marcus Epps25RWSigned with Phil in 17. NYRB loaned him to RBII / Memphis 901

ERYK WILLIAMSON is clearly at the head of the class here. His age combined with his activity in attacking has made him a player that Portland seems to like, but not want to fully commit to.

If you are looking to add a rock-solid overall midfield player, I'd inquire about Wal Fall, Harry Forrester, Kris Tyrpak. Picking up a late 20s journeyman probably isn't on the menu for most but Fall and Forrester have strong pro resumes and would hit the ground running. Even at the MLS level, they could contribute.

I'll have more on this topic soon. This was just a look at mids. Next up is Ball Winning Forwards (USL has many).

Any questions, contact me at: lwjohnson654@yahoo.com