MLS Week 3

MLS Week 3 is here, which means that it is time for an infuriating international break soon. March and September are both lovely months that mean the return of regular soccer, and both contain the record-scratch interruption of international soccer. So enjoy the full slate of MLS action while you can, before World Cup qualifying takes the wind out of everyone’s sails.

Last week, I singled out two matchups to pay attention:

My pick for game of the week was Houston-Columbus, and yeah, this was a super interesting match. Looking at the xG and passing maps generated by Twitter user @11tegen11 is evidence of that:

My player match-up was Onyewu v Giovinco. And it turns out those two did have an impactful tussle that ended when Onyewu caught Giovinco in the thigh and forced him to leave the game with injury.

National Focus: The run-up to the international break. The United States has two key World Cup Qualifiers coming up, and the national team has a very MLS feel to it, with the return of MLS’ Grumpy Old Man Bruce Arena to lead things, while much is being made over the return of Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard, who have both returned from injury to factor into the squad.

MLS is happy to hitch its wagon to the US Men’s National Team, the most popular US, male-only, competitive soccer team, and wow, that was quite a few qualifiers after that. The fact remains that without MLS being bound up with the USMNT’s television rights, the league would appear to be much shakier than it currently does.

MLS also likes to claim that its success and growth is bound up in the success of the national team, though there is a strong argument the US players coming into and still in their prime would be better served plying their trade in Europe. In addition, there is a strong argument to be made that out of all the national teams in CONCACAF, the US has benefited the least from the growth of MLS.

While it is wonderful that US national team players can earn a good living playing soccer at home, the opportunities given to players like Andy Najar, Deshorn Brown, and Roger Espinoza are all counterpoints that MLS is doing a better job putting local competition in the shop window for moves to Europe.

Game of the Week: Colorado-Minnesota. As you may have heard, last weekend Minnesota lost 6-1 in their home opener, meaning they are comfortably the worst team in the league. Coach Adrian Heath says he hasn’t given up on his players yet. They’ve only played two games, so I hoped that went without saying. The question for Heath, then is, how to approach the game after such a huge loss.

Do you keep doing what you are doing, risking extra scorn if the result isn’t improved? Do you have your team play ultra conservative soccer, to try and re-build confidence one half at a time? On the other side, if you are Pablo Mastroeni, do you switch from your more cautious style of play to try and get an early goal and rattle the opposition?

The respective managers will have the best read on their locker rooms and how best to proceed, but this choice of whether to stick or twist makes this the most interesting game of the weekend for me.

Despite losing 6-1, Minnesota actually created some decent opportunities. The OPTA expected goals had Minnesota at 1.70 versus Atlanta’s 2.14. Given some of the chances the defense conceded, this is a stat that shows Minnesota can hurt you. Based on this, I am hoping that both teams stay the course. Pushing too many men forward against Vengeas, Martinez, and Kadrii would be disastrous for Colorado. But the reward is tempting, isn’t it?

Matchup focus: Anibal Godoy v Roger Espinoza. Two CONCACAFers going head to head in the San Jose-SKC game. This is the first road game for a seemingly liberated San Jose, and Anibal Godoy has been the early breakout player of the year. Two goals in two games, both stunning in their own way, hint at a confidence and ease of play that seem at odds with his previous seasons in the league. Godoy attempted 115 passes last weekend, which is absolutely stunning for a team not known as great possessors of the ball. San Jose coach Dom Kinnear may look at FC Dallas’ performance last weekend as a good one to emulate, which would mean backing off the press that defined their Week 1 win and the possession that marked their Week 2 win over 10 man Vancouver.  

On the other side of the ball, Roger Espinoza will be the switch in the Sporting KC midfield to examine. Playing ahead of Ilie Sanchez and less offensively minded than Benny Feilhaber, Espinoza can do just about anything for SKC. The question will be how he matches up against Godoy, and whether Godoy can push enough to force Espinoza to change his patterns of play and focus more on preventing San Jose’s build up. Espinoza certainly has the grit to do so, and he could be key in stopping the resurrection of San Jose’s offensive production in central midfield.
Predictions:

2017 03 18 MLS Predictions

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Posted in MLS, US Men's National Team

MLS Week 2

The Focus Shifts North – After spending Sunday introducing the American viewing public to a new stadium and a new team in the South, MLS will showcase a couple of more northerly teams this week. On Saturday, New York Red Bulls host Colorado on UniMas and Minnesota hosts fellow expansion side Atlanta as the Sunday ESPN2 game.

Somewhat surprisingly, New York has not beaten Colorado since 2012. While that run may only encompass 4 games, it does point to an interesting style matchup. Colorado is more than happy to sit deep and invite teams forward while flooding the deep central midfield. The Week 1 victory over New England saw them limit New England to one key pass from anywhere near Zone 14. For facing a team with Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe, and Juan Agudelo, that’s not bad. New York will provide a slightly different test, as the formation switch to a 4-2-2-2 means that primary chance creators Sacha Kljestan and Daniel Royer will have a great deal of license to drift in and out of the central attacking areas. Colorado’s central pairing of Sam Cronin and Michael Azira will need to manage handoffs well, and still be able to cycle the ball to their wide attackers, hoping to catch New York’s fullbacks upfield.

The Minnesota-Atlanta game is harder to piece together. Both teams lost on opening weekends, and we can expect some changes in how each team looks. So we’ll focus on something a little bit different: fanbases. The shine of 55,000 people in Georgia showing up for an MLS match quickly wore off, as enthusiasm gave way to a library-like atmosphere, punctured only by the p*to chant and cups of beer being thrown on to the field. Minnesota’s fanbase has been with the team through several iterations, identities, and leagues, and there is a lot to look forward to in seeing the Loon Army and friends on a national broadcast.
Game of the Week – The obvious choice here would be Kansas City-Dallas. Dallas has started 2017 spectacularly well, and Kansas City has retooled and brought in some serious players in Gerso Fernandes and Ilie Sanchez.

The best game to check out this weekend will be Houston-Columbus. We have teams with very different outlooks at very different stages of their evolution. Houston have reconfigured themselves to defend stoutly in the middle and rely on their new wingers to provide goals and chances. It worked a treat in Week 1, as Elis and Torres snagged a goal each to defeat the defending MLS Cup Champions.

Columbus remain committed to their possession-heavy style (they were involved in the most pass-heavy MLS game of the week, per ASA) which sees them push their fullbacks way up the pitch, leaving space for those Houston wingers to get after. Coach Gregg Berhalter upgraded the defense this off-season, and the new look group will have a more direct test than they faced in their opening week draw with Chicago.

The Mountain versus The Ant – Gooch and Gio. The Philadelphia Union announced a head scratcher this offseason with the signing of the American man-mountain, a veteran of the US’ 2006 and 2010 World Cups, who had not played regularly since 2014 as he recovered from serious injuries to his knees. While still a very strong defender in some situations, Toronto would be wise to have Giovinco run at the gap between right back and central defense, where Gooch will be stationed. Giovinco had three successful dribbles in his first week match right in the area where Gooch will be stationed. Given his low center of gravity and ability to change directions rapidly, that seems like a potential mismatch for the Union. Given how extensively the Union planned out their match 

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The Return of Nerd League

The 2017 MLS season kicks off Friday night, as the Portland Timbers host Minnesota United. A Friday night kick off featuring an impressively but imperfectly re-tooled Portland should be a great start to the season. The opening weekend contains several match-ups between teams that have had serious transitions in player personnel and teams that have merely gone through minor tweaks.

Los Angeles’ new coach and new midfield begin a new era against Dallas, who have grafted some very promising players onto a double winning core. Real Salt Lake shed a club legend in Javier Morales and host Toronto, who have upgraded pieces without a real reshaping of the roster. Houston’s new look 4-3-3 will go against Seattle’s more established MLS Cup winners. Atlanta and Minnesota both join as expansion teams, though with different starting points and therefore different methods for building a roster.

Aside from the excitement of being able to watch more soccer in the evenings, this also means the return of Nerd League Soccer is imminent. Spending the late nights tallying goals, key passes, and goalkeeper catches really helps you grasp how teams are constructed, who the important players are, and who is overrated.

As MLS has added two teams this year, Nerd League also voted to expand. We now stand at 12 teams, though he have four new players (RIP B&B). These 12 teams will compete head-to-head in a split season format. There will be four trophies on the line: Spring Champion, Summer Champion, Variance Cup, and the Nerd League Soccer Cup, which is the playoffs.Last year, The Wil Trapp Family Registas won the single regular season and Variance Cup before losing in the first round of the playoffs to the eventual Nerd League Cup winners, Fire Sharks.

Since this league aims to mimic the good and bad portions of MLS, there were multiple player acquisition methods to staff the new teams while allowing the returners to maintain some of their players. So we had an expansion draft of a limited portion of the player pool, each team got to nominate some keeper players, then a re-entry draft, and finally the SuperAuction. It was suitably byzantine and there were enough quarrels over rule interpretations and loopholes that people wanted to quit, which seems about right for a fantasy sports league.

The competing teams are below in bold, followed by their imaginary USL affiliate teams for farming out younger and non A-list players. The names are all ridiculous puns or cultural references, and I’ve tried to match the affiliate name with the spirit of the original. But seriously, some of these are just weird.

The Wil Trapp Family Registas: I Look Sixteen Going on Seventeen SC

Your Mom Is A Movsisyan: Your Mom Is A Movsisyan Too

Fire Sharks: Microwaved Tilapia

Electric Science: Jr. Chemistry Set SC

Wu-TAM-Clan: Royal TAM

SPEED & QUICKNESS: speed & quickness

ChivasUSA Tribute Herd: Tampa Bay Bat Farm

Space GAM: He Got GAM

The Illmattocks: Osvaldamus

The Good, the Bad, and the Wookies: Mystic Wookie

Preki with the Good Hair: All the Homegrown Players

Proseltyzing Cosplay: The Preachy Princess Dress-Up Crew
Despite the league’s best efforts to mimic MLS rules, it does remain a great deal of fun, and the mixing of personalities is pretty amusing. Updated will be provided from time to time throughout the season, interspersed with other posts. Thanks for reading!

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The Part About It All Working Out

It’s been a bad couple of months for the attitude that it’ll all work out. Despite our best attempts at doing nothing, the issue of climate change hasn’t fixed itself. A friend told me that while he believed in climate change, and that it was probably caused by human activity, he didn’t feel any sort of pressure to make changes that would help with the problem, since “scientists usually figure out a solution at the last second for this kind of stuff.”

While that attitude is infuriating, there’s also a side of me that thinks it is one of the most innately American beliefs one can hold. It is simultaneously a statement of sturdy optimism, and an abdication of responsibility for the details. If you wanted to distill the hopeful haziness of the Constitution down to four words, “it’ll all work out” would be a fine choice. That attitude is why Jurgen Klinsmann’s tenure as US National Team Manager could be described as both sunny and directionless. And it’s why his departure from the job is depressing. Not that I think he was an especially good choice for manager, as he repeatedly proved he wasn’t.

His veneer of European expertise was cracking, as more and more evidence piled up that he didn’t have much time for game management or tactics. His breezy trend-chasing against Mexico in Columbus highlighted that he wasn’t serious about winning the Hex or taking the local rivalries seriously. But we knew about his weaknesses, from Philip Lahm’s autobiography, to the continued success of the German national team after he left, to the details in Das Reboot where it seems clear that Klinsmann served as a catalyst for other people’s ideas to gain an expedited acceptance.

But on an 4 year timeline, with as many variables and unforeseen outcomes that strike a 60 player national team pool, I don’t know that it is necessary to be so detail obsessed. Especially in a World Cup qualifying schedule as forgiving as the one the US faces. He didn’t do well in two of the three hardest fixtures in the Hex, but there remained plenty of time to fix it. I’m not sad that Klinsmann is gone, but I am sad that he won’t be given the chance to see the program through to the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Getting to the second round despite frightfully little planning would have been the most American thing he could have done.

At the club level, the United States Soccer Federation’s hands-off approach peaked with the recent shake-up that occurred in the divisions beneath MLS. After weeks of speculation that the NASL was folding and the USL would be granted sole ownership of the mostly symbolic Division 2 status, the governing body of the sport said both leagues would be designated D2. That sunny optimism struck again, with the USSF declining to make a hard choice, and instead opting to run multiple leagues at the same level, something largely unprecedented in world soccer. Maintaining neutrality and hoping that the leagues find a way to sort themselves naturally instead of establishing a cleaner, country-wide hierarchy is certainly optimistic. As I am writing this it looks like NASL will be down to 8 teams, with two clubs jumping to USL, a few going on hiatus, and a few closing up shop.
Global precedent shows us that the way to lessen the chaos at lower levels of game would be to come up with a detailed plan to allow clubs some stability and growth, even if the powers that be don’t want to open the pyramid up completely. Coming up with such a plan runs counter to some of the prevailing winds of American culture. A non-profit organization actually telling businessmen how to run their businesses? Seems like a subversion of free speech. The FCC rules on net neutrality and paid prioritization make a natural starting point for how the governing body should organize the club game here in the US, but the blowback to that decision certainly highlights the risks in laying down bright lines on how the game will work. So the only wise decision is to do nothing, and hope it all works out. Given the success rate of that plan in 2016 and the early parts of 2017, I’m not optimistic.

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The Part About the Slow Poison

I had a chance to go back to Kansas recently. Not as a punishment, though getting there felt like I had angered some minor diety. A friend was getting married, and I planned a 18 hour jaunt to get up there for a ceremony, see familiar faces at a reception, one blessed night of solo sleep at a hotel, and then fly back home.

I know at this point plans are wishes, and sure enough, my flight from Austin->Dallas->KC morphed into a trip from Austin to Atlanta to Milwuakee to KCI, with Uber delivering me to watch the end of post-wedding pictures. I don’t even know all the people in the wedding party, but as we’re standing around, that magic thing happens where the conversation and tone and topic all click into place, and I’m realizing we’re all on the same wavelength.

It’s a little intoxicating to be back, and the rest of the night glides by so smoothly that I forget how exhausting people and all their associated details are. The trip home was smoother than the trip there, but dominated by reverie about the group of friends I had gotten to hang out with. That warm fuzzy feeling was so dominant that I went home and slipped into a week of listening to a band I was introduced to by Mike, who emailed, yes emailed me an mp3 of The Hold Steady’s Chips Ahoy. It was a musical blind date that went splendidly.

And man, I wanted to keep basking in that feeling. So down the rabbit hole I went, hitting up all the old classics that were played in front of friends to gauge their reactions during the endless rounds of “That’s really good. But did you hear this yet…”

So I read this fact the other day, that most people who overdose on a drug do so in a place other than the place they commonly partake of their poison of choice. Most people partake at home, in their bathroom, and every time they do, their brain uses the fact that they are in the normal location as a way to suppress the high, meaning the person has to up the dose a bit. Then if the person ends up getting high somewhere else, they use the same amount of substance as they would at home, but the new surroundings prevent their brain from protecting them adequately.

And so it goes here. At a certain point in the whole exploration of the greatest hits, I’m listening to a song (Hold Steady, again), and a switch flips. Suddenly I’m sitting on the terrible wood deck at Bellecrest, resting my head on a girl’s shoulder, being annoyed with the current romantic alignment. Exposed to this whole new romance-tinged nostalgia, I start compiling playlists and casting back through songs that I associate, no, that belong to a face. One conjures the other, and I’m left in a warm embrace of youth and alcohol and the hazy future.

And I could totally float away on that forever. And for a few days, I do. These are Rob’s fantasy problems that he describes to Laura. And like Rob I want, well, I embrace the real problems. All this nostalgia glosses over the fact that I was broker, drunker, and had less reason to get out of bed than at any other time in my life. Yeah, it’s annoying when your alarm clock is a four year old landing a two footed Gerrard tackle into your kidneys, but it’s way better than waking up hungover and trying to choose between the breakfast menus at Long John Silver’s and Chester Fried Chicken.

And so I’m making a list to drown nostalgia in. I’m gonna OD on the slow poison and come out clean on the other side. I can kind of see how that is done now.

After watching the Trainspotting 2 trailer and the line, “We’re all addicts, just get addicted to something else” I have been back to dabbling in random happy thoughts about things like pro/rel. Here are the updated tables for 2016 with how I’d like things to work. All done on weighted ppg, and assuming all the Canadian teams get kicked out by a vengeful FIFA. Hey, a man’s gotta have dreams. Obviously affiliates can’t exist in the same division as the main club, so sorry Red Bulls II, you were the most dominant team in the US this year!

The 24 team national league:

 Division 1 National 
Team PPG
1 FC Dallas 4.18 W CCL
2 Colorado Rapids 4.04 W CCL
3 Red Bull New York 3.97 E CCL
4 New York Cosmos 3.80 E
5 New York City FC 3.76 E
6 Los Angeles Galaxy 3.62 W
7 Seattle Sounders 3.35 W
8 Sporting Kansas City 3.28 W
9 Indianapolis Eleven 3.21 E
10 DC United 3.21 E
11 Real Salt Lake 3.21 W
12 Portland Timbers 3.07 W
13 Philadelphia Union 2.93 E
14 New England Revolution 2.93 E
15 Orlando City SC 2.86 E
16 Rayo OKC 2.75 W
17 San Jose Earthquakes 2.65 W
18 Columbus Crew SC 2.51 E
19 Minnesota United 2.40 W
20 Ft Lauderdale Strikers 2.40 E
21 Houston Dynamo 2.37 W Relegation
22 Carolina Railhawks 2.34 E Relegation
23 Tampa Bay Rowdies 2.28 E Relegation
24 Chicago Fire 2.16 W Relegation

Splits into the two 20-team regional leagues:

 Division 2 East 
Team PPG Space
1 Red Bulls II 3.98 E Promotion
2 Louisville FC 3.46 E Playoff
3 FC Cincinnati 3.23 E Playoff
4 Rochester Rhinos 2.94 E Playoff
5 Charlotte Independence 2.88 E Playoff
6 Charlotte Eagles 2.84 E
7 Charleston Battery 2.77 E
8 Richmond Kickers 2.60 E
9 Carolina Dynamo 2.59 E
10 Reading United AC 2.59 E
11 Chattanooga FC 2.58 E
12 Miami United FC 2.48 E
13 Miami FC 2.34 E
14 Puerto Rico FC 2.04 E
15 Orlando City II 2.02 E
16 Wilmington Hammerheads 1.96 E
17 Harrisburg City Islanders 1.79 E Relegation
18 Jacksonville Armada 1.75 E Relegation
19 Bethlehem Steel FC 1.61 E Relegation
20 Pittsburgh Riverhounds 1.44 E Relegation
 Division 2 West 
Team PPG Space
1 Sacramento Republic 3.00 W Promotion
2 Rio Grande Valley FC 2.94 W Playoff
3 FC Tucson 2.93 W Playoff
4 Houston Dutch Lions 2.83 W Playoff
5 Colorado Switchbacks 2.83 W Playoff
6 Swope Park Rangers 2.77 W
7 Milwuakee Torrent 2.76 W
8 Los Angeles Galaxy II 2.71 W
9 Tulsa Athletics 2.53 W
10 Fresno Fuego 2.51 W
11 Oklahoma City Energy 2.48 W
12 San Diego Zest 2.42 W
13 Orange County Blues 2.31 W
14 Portland II 2.31 W
15 San Antonio FC 2.19 W
16 Real Monarchs 2.08 W
17 Seattle Sounders II 2.02 W Relegation
18 Arizona United 1.96 W Relegation
19 St Louis FC 1.96 W Relegation
20 Tulsa Roughnecks 1.10 W Relegation

The 3rd tier leagues also run with 20 teams, and splits into north and south feeders for the D2 leagues:

 Division 3 East North
Team PPG Space
1 GPS Portland Phoenix 2.42 E Promotion
2 Clarkstown Eagles SC 2.38 E Playoff
3 Ocean City No’easters 2.26 E Playoff
4 AFC Cleveland 2.21 E Playoff
5 New York Cosmos B 2.19 E Playoff
6 Western Mass Pioneers 2.09 E
7 Baltimore Bohemians 1.92 E
8 Grand Rapids FC 1.92 E
9 Boston City FC 1.84 E
10 Red Bull New York U23s 1.84 E
11 New Jersey Copa FC 1.76 E
12 Long Island Rough Riders 1.76 E
13 Indy11 NPSL 1.75 E
14 FC Boston 1.67 E
15 Junior Lone Star FC 1.61 E
16 AFC Ann Arbor 1.61 E
17 Seacoast United Phantoms 1.59 E Relegation
18 FC Buffalo 1.56 E Relegation
19 AC Connecticut 1.50 E Relegation
20 Michigan Stars FC 1.46 E Relegation
 Division 3 East South
Team PPG Space
1 The Villages SC 2.42 E Promotion
2 South Florida Surf 2.34 E Playoff
3 SC United Bantams 2.01 E Playoff
4 Myrtle Beach Mutiny 1.93 E Playoff
5 SW Virginia’s King’s Warriors 1.92 E Playoff
6 Fredricksburg FC 1.84 E
7 Legacy 76 1.84 E
8 FC Miami 1.84 E
9 Floridians FC 1.76 E
10 S Georgia Tormenta 1.76 E
11 Atlanta Silverbacks 1.75 E
12 Miami Fusion 1.66 E
13 Jacksonville Armada U23 1.66 E
14 Virginia Beach City FC 1.66 E
15 Memphis City FC 1.56 E
16 Mississippi Brilla 1.34 E
17 SW Florida Adrenaline 1.34 E Relegation
18 Shreveport Rafters 1.30 E Relegation
19 New Orleans Jesters 1.29 E Relegation
20 Carolina Railhawks U23 1.29 E Relegation
 Division 3 West Pacific
Team PPG Space
1 FC Golden State Force 2.17 W Promotion
2 Albion SC 2.15 W Playoff
3 Seattle Sounders U23 2.01 W Playoff
4 Ventura County Fusion 2.01 W Playoff
5 Burlingam Dragons FC 1.92 W Playoff
6 North County Battalion SC 1.84 W
7 Deportivo Coras U23 1.76 W
8 Sonoma County Sol 1.71 W
9 Washington Crossfire 1.67 W
10 San Francisco City FC 1.67 W
11 CD Aguiluchos USA 1.58 W
12 OSA FC 1.56 W
13 East Bay FC Stompers 1.45 W
14 Kitsap Pumas 1.42 W
15 Sacramento Gold 1.38 W
16 BYU Cougars 1.34 W
17 Southern California SC 1.30 W Relegation
18 Lane United 1.25 W Relegation
19 Portland Spartans FC 1.20 W Relegation
20 Las Vegas Mobsters 1.00 W Relegation
 Division 3 West Central 
Team PPG Space
1 OKC Energy U23 2.59 W Promotion
2 Midland/Odessa 2.26 W Playoff
3 FC Wichita 2.15 W Playoff
4 Dallas FC 1.46 W Playoff
5 Liverpool Warriors 1.46 W Playoff
6 Chicago Mustangs 1.38 W
7 Minnesota TwinStars 1.38 W
8 Little Rock Rangers 1.23 W
9 Corinthians FC of San Antonio 1.07 W
10 St. Louis Lions 1.00 W
11 Albuqueque Sol 0.92 W
12 Houston Regals SCA 0.54 W
13 Joplin Demize 0.46 W
14 Fort Worth Vaqueros 0.31 W
15 LaCrosse Aris 0.00 W
16  TBD W
17  TBD W Relegation
18  TBD W Relegation
19  TBD W Relegation
20  TBD W Relegation
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The Hardest Win to Win

When New York City FC defeated the Montreal Impact 3-1 on Sunday, they notched their sixth away win of the season. The Eastern Conference leaders have twice as many wins on the road as they do at their home field, Yankee Stadium. NYCFC and FC Dallas have nearly a third of all road wins between them, and if you add Toronto and Vancouver to the equation, those four teams account for nearly half of all road wins in a 20 team league.

The count of each type of MLS result, and the percent of the whole:

Home Wins 102 0.515152
Home Draws 63 0.318182
Home Losses 33 0.166667
Away Losses 102 0.515152
Away Draws 63 0.318182
Away Wins 33 0.166667

Home teams average 1.86 points per game in MLS, while away teams average 0.82. There are a number of factors to consider, but this seems to be another area where MLS doesn’t hold to international norms, where the win percentage for home teams is ~45%, depending on the league.

It’s tempting to say this is likely travel related, and there is probably something to that. MLS has teams in all four time zones, and there can be thousands of miles to match up against conference foes, never mind the occasional east-west clash.

Indeed, looking at the other national soccer league in the US, the numbers aren’t too dissimilar. Here’s the same information for the 2016 NASL season:

Home Wins 39 0.513158
Home Draws 21 0.276316
Home Losses 16 0.210526
Away Losses 39 0.513158
Away Draws 21 0.276316
Away Wins 16 0.210526

Home teams in NASL have a similarly strong advantage at home. Home teams average 1.81ppg, and road teams average .90.

Below MLS and NASL lies USL, which should be considered a regional, instead of national league. The Eastern and Western conferences rarely face off during the regular season, and the limits in travel also seem to affect results. The Eastern Conference:

Home Wins 53 0.420635
Home Draws 31 0.246032
Home Losses 42 0.333333
Away Losses 52 0.412698
Away Draws 31 0.246032
Away Wins 43 0.34127

And the Western Conference:

Home Wins 58 0.43
Home Draws 36 0.27
Home Losses 40 0.30
Away Losses 58 0.43
Away Draws 37 0.28
Away Wins 39 0.29

USL numbers tend to skew closer to international averages, which makes sense. Outside of Russia and China, there aren’t too many countries with teams traveling across multiple time zones to face each other.

All of this is to explain one facet of the power rankings, namely that I wanted to incorporate a degree of difficulty component to the results. This means a home win in MLS is scored as 3 points, while an away win counts much higher. So don’t be surprised by the team on top of the power rankings. They’re good, but this good? Maaaaaybe.

USA 2016 07 18

 

 

Posted in MLS, Uncategorized, US Pyramid

5-1

Not the ideal way to end a season, even one as good at Tottenham’s. Especially when you need at least a tie to finish above your local rivals for the first time in 21 years. Especially on a day when you were the only game that really meant anything. So the world tuned in to see a second half collapse against 10 relegated  mercenary souls.

The game was very much a trap game. Newcastle’s short-term manager, Rafa Benitez, excels at coming up with strategies that put better teams’ noses out of joint. He knew where to hit Spurs, and in ex-Spur Andros Townsend and enthusiastic want-away Moussa Sissoko, he had players that are great working down the flanks, in the space Tottenham’s full backs tend to vacate as they attempt to provide width. Keep Colbeck, Tiote, and Steven Taylor clogging up Zone 14 (the central area right outside the box) and you’ll take away most of Tottenham’s attacking verve.

I generally don’t second guess managers, since they see training and have a whole myriad of other factors to consider besides the outcome of the next match. I would argue that Pochettino should have tweaked his usual formation a little bit more than he did, given the players available. I would have taken these steps:

  1. Switch Mason and Eriksen. Drop Eriksen alongside Dier to provide deeper passing range and smarter positional play.  Think back to Huddlestone playing the deep pivot when Bale was out injured, pinging endless accurate balls up the flanks to the fullbacks to switch point of attack. Mason should have been a like-for-like with Dele Alli, breaking beyond Kane into the box. Not the same technique as the teenager, but a better use of his “talents.”
  2. Tell Lamela and Son to start wider. Both will happily come inside to search for the ball, but they needed to drag their full backs and the holding midfielders out to them to open up gaps.
  3. Fullbacks to play more conservatively and look to underlap more often. I’m thinking of the inverted full backs at Bayern, who will come up slightly and provide an interior passing option. Walker in particular was hitting some woeful crosses.

Does that solve everything? Not really, but it shifts Newcastle’s defense around a bit more while keeping the fullbacks at home a bit more to deal with the counterattack.

Mitrovic’s red card perversely helped Newcastle way more than it did Tottenham. Newcastle were already planning on sitting deep and breaking, and the man advantage just meant more Spurs players got sucked forward. Going from 2-1 to 5-1 based on the equalizer and red card reminded me of the 6-1 defeat Manchester United suffered against their city rivals, where one commentator said that United getting a goal back to make it 3-1 was the worst thing that could have happened to United, as they poured forward and conceded three more.

The last thing I wanted to touch on before breaking into tears was the penalty. So much kicking and pulling and whatnot goes uncalled in the name of letting the game flow, that I don’t really consider diving cheating, it is more like artful revenge, when done well. Honestly, Sissoko’s dive was the artiest of revenges. If my idea of putting a former player, an ice skating judge, and a kinesiologist on a panel to judge dives was implemented, that trio would have awarded Sissoko high marks:

  • he is alone in the box after a single-person 60 yard counterattack
  • the only defender between him and the goalie is a wispy creative midfielder not known for his staunch defending
  • the opposition is desperate to get something out of the game
  • it’s the last game of the season, everyone is tired
  • he pulls the leg back almost perfectly to mirror the defender’s leg swipe
  • he falls in a semi-natural way

That’s gotta be one of the smarter dives I’ve seen all season. I’m not even mad at the dirty rotten cheater.

So Tottenham’s manager and players have come out and apologized, and off we head for a summer rife with soccer. The European Championship, Copa Centenario, the trainwreck that will be Olympic soccer in Rio, plus the usual league and Open Cup soccer in the US. I’m sure eldest daughter will appreciate having her dad back on weekend mornings, and I’ll need to brush up on my Lego skills.

US Rankings

Colorado’s two recent draws have seen them dragged down a bit, but no one can match them overall for results. Houston and Edmonton were the big gainers.

I am working on breaking this table to reflect past versus upcoming opponents and to better account for teams being home or away. Hopefully that will be available by the time the Copa starts.

USA 2016 05 17

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Posted in BPL, MLS, US Pyramid