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:

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.

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.


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.


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."


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?


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.


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.