Monday, August 31, 2020

Quick Crew Player Grades

With such a jumpy season it's hard to get a handle on how well players are doing. So, I decided to put together a quick cheat sheet - a high-level look at things.

Below is a table that has total touches and average WhoScored rating. 

If a player has the ball a lot and keeps a good score? GREAT!

If a player has the ball a lot and has a bad score? BAD!

A+Lucas Zelarayan3437.64
A+Josh Williams2067.37
AGyasi Zardes2357.24
AJonathan Me7297.13
AYouness Mok1767.03
BHarrison Af5956.86
BMilton Vale4176.85
BPedro Santo3886.84
BAndrew Tarb1426.84
CDerrick Eti2386.76
CVito Wormgo936.74
CLuis Díaz1766.73
CHéctor Jimé2156.71
DFatai Alash206.29
DAidan Morri256.23
DFanendo Adi416.09
DEmmanuel Bo526.08
FAboubacar K3316.55
FSebastian B1956.47
FChris Cadde1736.24

Zelarayan is as advertised. Josh Williams is playing at a good level this year as well.

Aboubacar is not having a season to remember thus far and Chris Cadden doesn't appear to be a great fit right now. I don't think he wanted to leave Scotland.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

NBA players head strike

What started as a refusal to play by the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks snowballed into a complete shutdown of games. The rest of the NBA, WNBA, 8 of 32 MLB teams, and 10 of 12 MLS teams players all followed the Bucks lead. The USL and NHL played games as normal.

It's understandable for NBA players to not want to play games. They are stuck in a bubble away from family and friends while outside the bubble there is a pandemic, intense protests, another police shooting (with a deadly citizen response) rages on. For the Bucks, tensions were already high because one of the players was harassed and beaten in a big box store parking lot last year.

Things got pretty messy over in MLS. 

The NBA strike was in full swing before the start of the evening games in Major League Soccer. A couple players (notably, Jozy Altidore and Mark Anthony-Kaye) jumped on Twitter to express their feelings, which were basically in solidarity with the NBA strike.

Orlando City and Nashville then kicked off. Notably, only one player on the Orlando side kneeled (Nani). About halfway through the 1st half news of players from the other games meeting about not playing. Around this time the league (MLS) and Don Garber released a mystifyingly vague statement about the current social environment. It seemingly lit a fire under the players and shortly thereafter decisions were made by the players to not play. Effectively canceling the games.

In another statement later in the night, Garber issued a statement that alluded to the idea that it was the league that made the call and not the players, which is a complete fabrication and lie.


Players refusing to play without the league or player's union approval is the same as workers walking off the job without their union's say. This is commonly called a "wildcat strike." It's a well-worn path in union shops (particularly in corrupt areas, but we won't get into that). Many news outlets are calling it a "boycott" but that's incorrect. What are they boycotting? No players issued a statement calling out their own league employers. I don't think the term fits.


The decision the Bucks made to not play and the speech they gave afterward came from the heart. They have been put in a fishbowl and, looking back now, this is probably the predictable result. MLS players, fresh off their own fishbowl, are doing the same. 


Apparently, all remaining NBA teams met last night to vote on canceling the rest of the season and only the two LA teams (notably LeBron James) voted to cancel the season. Everyone else wants to play.

In MLS, who knows. Last night it felt like the league was falling apart in real-time. The NBA, season canceling or not, will survive. I don't think MLS can afford to lose the season.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The Vanishing of MLS

MLS has had only one game on TV since August 11, over 2 weeks ago. The one game was on FOX (the main channel) and it shockingly only pulled a 0.2 rating of 374k viewers this past Saturday.

Since the last MLS game on cable TV the NBA has had 65 games and shows. The NHL? 60. Major League Baseball, which lives mostly in local markets, has had 29 national games. LigaMX has logged 22 games on cable. There have even been 7 UEFA Champions League games played.

All totaled, 256 sports-related shows have registered on cable since MLS's last MLS is Back game.

So what gives?

MLS started playing regular market games the day after MLS is Back ended on August 11th. Since then 20+ games have been played and none have shown up on a cable network. No FS1 or ESPN, no nuttin'.

All of the games have either been shown on local channels or ESPN+. Before you ask, streaming MLS games don't pull more than a couple thousand viewers at best (and no, the couple dozen illegal streamers don't move the needle). Local network viewership is normally measured in the four figures unless you are maybe a Seattle or Atlanta.

I don't know why ESPN hasn't made room for an MLS game yet. Nor why FS1 can't find a couple hours. What I do know is that it's made the league invisible.

In the coming weeks, FS1 will show a couple games. Further down the road I see another LA/LA matchup (same as the one that flopped last weekend) on FOX. That's it though. ESPN and ESPN 2, for whatever reason, are sitting the return of MLS out.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Zelarayán's Early Success Shows Healthy Crew Environment

 As the MLS season limps along with fits and starts one thing appears to be a sure thing - the Crew environment.

Finding a fit in MLS can sometimes appear to be more of an art than science. The success rate of players all across the pay spectrum appears to be random at times. Why did "Fancy Spainard" with all the tools and skills of a top player not work, while "Surprise Venezuelan" who has a limited set of abilities to work with, does work.

The answer is that it's more alchemy than a synthetic drug. Environment, teammates, coaches, and the like are simple things that are out of a player's control, yet have to be right. Things like ability, mentality, and attitude in a player can all be perfect tens and it wouldn't matter if the clubhouse isn't right.

Adding to the complexity of the formula bubbling over the brim of a wood-fired cauldron is the temperature of which to cook all these things. Time and time again in MLS, and more often than tiered leagues, we see top players not work out. Getting the mix right is difficult. 

A word that is thrown around quite a bit is "culture." It's easy to cringe when you see that word pop on your Twitter timeline or mentioned in a post-match interview. But, it's an important word, none the less.

A player like Lucas Zelarayan will not work if conditions are not right, but for him in Columbus, they appear to be. Through his first 324 minutes, he has managed 3 goals and 2 assists and has a high WhoScored rating of 7.80.

It's not the three goal demolition of Chicago, but the recent game against a very good NYCFC you see the importance of a player like Zelarayan. For the Crew to stay with the top teams in MLS, he needs to stay healthy.

Honestly, though, the more important takeaway, for now, is that he worked at all in his first few games. A little early to call it a successful signing? Yes. But not too early to say that the environment he walked into appears to be healthy.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020


I'm shocked. It's the only way I know of expressing my feelings over the announcement from the Big Ten canceling their College Football season. Having lived in Columbus, Ohio for a dozen years. I'm shocked.

Looking over the history of college football in Ohio it's easy to see why it is as part of the yearly life cycle of just about every Ohioan. Ohio State University has records for the football team going back to 1890 with not one year missing. That's continuous play for 130 years.

My time in Ohio was spent in warehouses. Most with over 250 asses and elbows working together. At one the count was over 2500. OSU football was in their DNA. It wasn't just a thing to do. Fall lives are built around games. It's ritualistic. It's religious.

Why this is so shocking for me is, well, look around. Nothing is still shutdown. There might be modifications to how they are running, but everything is humming along. Why I go into town here in Virginia, be it here in the conservative valley or in the liberal hotbed of DC, Northern Virginia - places are packed with people. A slightly modified version of what we once know of life is again being lived.


I had to call a plumber last week to fix what was causing a backup in my main water pipe. It was a mess and beyond my reach as an eager handyman guy. Young guy was on the job, probably mid-20s. Fixed me all up in a couple hours. 

Amazon, my employer for a couple years, has been working over full strength through the pandemic. A majority of the workers in their warehouses are between the ages of 18-25. College-age. Another former company -, never shut down. 

Are the lives of college "kids" somehow more important than those of the rest out there in the workforce? It's a question I'm not going to tackle in this post, but it does speak to the growing divide in this country (the haves, who participate in "normal" America and the have-nots, who look at it through a window).


I'm not a college football fan. While this decision they have made is morally correct, it makes zero sense. The students want to go to school. They want to play sports. The fans want the games. The coaches and administrators want the games. 

For a 20-year-old, one year is a lifetime of memories. Every life lived has its own winding path, filled with hardship, but this one, at least to me, is completely out of left field.


Last note that I keep hearing about. "Litigation." Give me a break. Colleges have more control over what goes on than I had over my childhood GI Joe kingdoms. All these horrific abuse cases at big colleges like Michigan State, Penn State, Ohio State and life hardly skips a beat in those towns. 

Every other sports league is functioning at some level. I have issues with MLS and their plans to restart (again!) with fans, but not with them trying to go. NBA, NHL, NASCAR, LigaMX, MLS, Cornhole, literally everything else is going. Too dangerous for little Jordan, I guess. Who knows.

Monday, August 10, 2020

MLS "operating out of strength"

MLS released a pandemic schedule of games and they are allowing fans to attend. As of this writing, the official league release states that "the majority of the matches will be played without fans," but that is PR speak to keep the critical voices at bay. Don Garber has made it clear that he wants fans in attendance.

Here are a couple quotes from the Commissioner (Aug 8):

“I never believed, and I know our owners and staffs never believed, in quitting when we’re ahead, and we’ve not been ahead a whole lot. … We’ve accepted the fact that we’re going to have challenges.”

“The alternative is to make the decision to not go forward, and operate out of fear as opposed to operating out of strength, and out of confidence.”

This is good old fashioned by the book business speak from the early aughts. It's great when you are tackling challenges from competitors or trying to rally the troops for a peak season of sales, but man does it miss the mark when talking about a virus that is causing illness and pain to hundreds of thousands in the United States.

It's important to remember the utter devastation Covid-19 is causing. Outside of the physical illness, you have the pain associated with not being able to be with family members and friends in a hospital for any reason. Daycares and schools not reopening and forcing duel income homes to figure something else out. You have something close to 20 million working-age and able citizens out of work right now and all fighting for the same handful of jobs.

Needless to say, it's an incredibly stressful time for Americans and we may not know the fallout from it for years to come.

With that in mind, it's very easy to understand why people might be pissed off at MLS for using corporate-speak as a weapon to reopen the gates. I mean; kids across the country can't go to school, but I can get a ticket to a Crew game?

It's not necessarily about the safety of fans, players and staff at games. It's about looking back after all the bodies have been counted and being able to stay you did everything you could to keep it from being worse.

MLS has chosen to "operate out of strength" instead of thoughtfulness and compassion by allowing fans into games.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

TUDN Viewers: MLS to LigaMX

It's worth taking a look at TUDN TV viewership numbers since MLS is Back started because of the continued relationship MLS and LigaMX are forging. 

TUDN is described as an American Spanish language sports channel owned by Univision Communications. It has somewhere around 39 million subscribers in the US (for comparison, ESPN has around 85 million). During the pandemic, the only shows popping up in the top 150 cable shows for that day are soccer-related. Outside of "Lina de Cuatro Especial" the top 15 programs since MLS is Back started are live games (13 LigaMX, 1 MLS). 


TUDN viewers tuned in to MLS right up until LigaMX games started. After that, it was a sharp drop into nothingness for MLS. Zero games (6) registered in the top 150 cable shows after the Mexican league started back up.


As you would expect, actual viewership numbers a much lower on TUDN due to the level of subs. What I tried to illustrate in the chart above was the immediate swap that happened from MLS to LigaMX.

If you hover over the chart, you'll get the actual figures. Roughly speaking, the are what you might expect in relationship to ESPN numbers (half).

It's interesting to me that TUDN viewers had zero interest in returning to MLS once LigaMX restarted. It's almost as if sports fans have a metaphorical cup that they fill with their own personal sports time. For TUDN viewers, that means that there's just no room for MLS.