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 "" 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:
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 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:

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.

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.

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.


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

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

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:

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

2019 MLS Prediction Recap

Turns out my 2019 predictions were very good. In fact, 2nd best in comparison to six pundits over at MLS HQ and two others outside MLS.

Last year around this time I started diving into Eastern Conference MLS teams. The dive was pretty deep. If you are on the desktop version of this site, you will find them in the January 2019 dropdown on the right. The posts are titled "Preseason Look..."

What I ended up using was a combination of WhoScored, (the always excellent) Football Manager player ratings, and EA's FIFA 19 player ratings. From there, I dug into what Transfer Market had to say about individual player values (although, I did not take that into consideration with my final rank last year. Just used as a sanity check).

Below are how the predictions panned out. On the left is final Conf position - to the right of the list of teams are were everyone thought teams would finish.

2Atlanta United1212113
3Philadelphia Union4335479
4Toronto FC6859691
5D.C. United5443234
6New York Red Bulls3121325
7New England Revolution111161012108
8Chicago Fire8101165811
9Montreal Impact109104946
10Columbus Crew SC2587767
11Orlando City SC912912111112
12FC Cincinnati1271211101210

Rank: Average position places off:

Avg OffName

Rank: Median position places off:

Median OffName

Rank: Within one spot on the table:

Within 1Name

Rank: Way off - teams >5 spots off:

Way OffName

I'm pretty happy with where I finished, which was basically second to Charlie Davies (congrats buddy). I'm particularly happy with only having one team way off on my table. It was Philly. Their team was being built differently, so it was hard to get my hands around them.

The other one I wish I had back was Columbus. I knew that Zach Steffen was leaving in the summer, I should have factored that in somehow.

Lastly, I finished fiddling with my team rankings around the end of January. I should have probably waited till late Feb. 

Thanks for reading. If you have any questions or comments, let me know at --