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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

MLS Attendance stats week 9

Welcome to your weekly MLS attendance stats fix. Took me a couple of days to compile info while I was distracted by national teams, etc. More on the USA loss at Wembley later. As accustomed, I'm including a bonus plot in high-def below that shows the Eastern Conference attendance statistics for each venue. Note that by "week" I mean each time a game is played in a particular venue. TFC wins in this round with a consistently sold out BMO Field as I've stated on several occasions. They are definitely my favorite team to root for when at home. They also tend to bring along a healthy contingent to away matches as was visible in both DC and Columbus on previous matches. DC, with their fervent fans and well-adorned history, is a close second when it comes to attendance both in general and relative terms. They have an average of 77% stadium attendance. This plot shows a little up and down related to Saturday vs Thursday games and a sellout crowd against RSL in late April. Sadly, one of their primetime matches against impressive Columbus drew only around 13K.
The New York Red Bulls have not done well at all if compared to DC and TFC. Some of their games drew 12K or less. This is a sobering sight since they are supposed to be getting a state-of-the-art, 25,000 seat stadium. NY crowds are fickle, however. They tend to draw when big names are out like Beckham and international friendlies as well as club friendlies with premier teams from Europe. Admittedly, the fan base is there, they just need to find a way to coax them into watching a side that already boasts the best attacking tandem in the league with Juan Pablo Angel and Jozy Altidore.
The Columbus Crew is another side that perplexes me. They show up in healthy numbers for some matches, as was the case with the Houston and New England games but not as much on opening day or against KC and Chivas. The recent and unfortunate turn of events cataloged by MLSR and Steve Goff, where some of the unpleasant seeds of hooliganism and racism have shown their ugly face. Racism has no place on the field. I at one point stated that I liked the streamers in TFC and other crowds. I'm beginning to rethink that to maybe that it should be done before the game or during the half or something. As beautiful as it is to see all the flair that soccer can have, I do not want to see players injured by bottles, cans, or flares and even less by the insulting bananas thrown at New England's Dube. Plenty of other websites have chronicled this turn of events so I will not dwell on it here.
Chicago, like TFC has enjoyed a regular crowd that does not fill stadiums to the brim but certainly don't leave it empty. Chicagoans have had to endure the fickle weather of the city and still have made it out to the games. 80% average.
Kansas City has a much smaller venue now at the Community America Ballpark. They gather the usual crowds that now, relatively speaking, do fill up the stadium.
Last, and saddest of all, is New England. MLS Cup runner's up on several occasions may have cost the Revs their fan base. The team has yet to break the 14,000 mark this year and is level with Columbus at 54% average attendance.
Enjoy the new figures. As always, all statistics are based on public MLS numbers and all plots are on the right column.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The next Mexican national team coach

Much has been said and speculated about the choice for Mexico's national team after pentapichichi Hugo Sanchez sank the team out of the Olympics and lost the CONCACAF Gold Cup and a spot in the FIFA Confederations Cup to be held in South Africa next year as a preamble to the World Cup. I'm not usually one to comment on Mexico futbol since my team(s) are fierce rivals of the Azteca side but because this could have significant implications for the US national team as well as CONCACAF in general, I thought I would address it as well. From what I've heard through various means (radio, TV, internet), some of the names that have been worked with include expensive and outright formidable coaches such as Portugal's Scolari, Atletico Madrid (and former Mexico coach) "el Vasco" Aguirre, former Argentine (and current Toluca coach) Jose Pekerman, Jose Mourinho, and just recently former English national team coach Sven Goran Eriksson. Why is this important? Well, right now the team is being coached by interim coach Jesus "el chucho" Ramirez and many in the media as well as players argue that he should keep the job. Ramirez was also the coach for the youth Mexican side U-17 that won that tournament as well as the Olympic side prior to Sanchez taking over (unfortunately). Arguably, he's the best man for the job. As I hinted in previous postings on this blog I think the best idea is to allow coaches to develop with the younger teams and move up the system to be eventual head coaches of the national teams. The recent performance of these coaches is reflected on their impressive records: Domenech took France to the 2006 final, Bradley has done great for the United States, Pekerman also performed great with Argentina, and so far Ecuador's Sixto Vizuete has done a better job than his predecessor. One of the more outspoken Mexican team owners, Jorge Vergara, has been continually adamant about having high profile, high price coaches such as those stated above. Lately, Eriksson has received a lot of press and the pros and cons have been tossed back and forth. Most outspoken of all is Jaime Gallardo of XM Satellite Radio's Futbol de Primera and Tricolor Deportivo shows. He insists that Chucho Ramirez should be left alone because of the multiple problems Eriksson would have trying to understand the Mexican style, players, league, and the language (!). I have to say I agree with his position. Let's rewind from an American perspective... Back in time after the 2006 failure (I, the same as many other fans out there, was hoping to see a lot more from the American side), Bruce Arena was discontinued as head coach, and rightly so. His cycle had ended and his style had shown its age and lost flair and element of surprise. Sunil Gulati, head of USSF, let too much time pass between the World Cup and a decision on a new head coach. He was hoping to land Germany's former coach Jurgen Kilnsman but that fell through when US Soccer demanded to have several aspects of the team (technical staff) be continued without Klinsman's consent, i.e. he would have little input in terms of staff and certain other logistics.
Enter Bob Bradley... Right after the Klinsman talks failed (and even though it had been termed a done deal by the media), an "interim" position was given to Bradley. He proved to be more than just an interim by winning crucial matches and the CONCACAF Gold Cup title and a return to the FIFA Confederations Cup. So far he has continued to perform really well including impressive wins away in European soil against Euro 2008 teams Switzerland (1-0) and a classic football Poland team (3-0!). Such was also the case with Ecuador's Sixto Vizuete, who took up the reins after Luis Fernando Suarez quit after losing 3 World Cup Qualifiers in a row. Vizuete won an impressive game against Peru by the score of 5-1, beat Haiti in a friendly match with an undermanned side and lost, just yesterday, against France by 0-2 in a game that was missing 50-60% of their starters against a fully loaded French side with the likes of Malouda, Thuram, and Anelka on the field.
So as for Ramirez and Mexico's team.... Let the Chucho stay. I'd be more worried about Mexico with him in charge than any other coach. Pekerman could also be a great addition for the team. Being turned down by the likes of Scolari and Mourinho and even "El Vazco" Aguirre should let the FMF know what their options truly are. Still, it would be interesting to have the Mexican side be coached by Eriksson. A toss-up for sure, but maybe a hint of things to come. Maybe once Bradley's cycle ends the USA could follow up on its promise of bringing a renowned coach to America.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

United Rules

Manchester United wins. Surprised? Shouldn't be. Even though the game was essentially a toss-up and Chelsea controlled the second half and the overtime sometimes teams bound for greatness have lady luck on their side. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for Man U, but I also wanted to see Chelsea win and witness the immediate future of Avram Grant as well as the look on Mourinho's face. Let's face it, however, Mourinho built this squad and Grant inherited it last year after squabbles between Abromovich and Mourinho hit a point of no return. We also have to give credit to a myriad players from all around the world: homegrown talent in Terry and Lampard, the wizardry of Ballack, Essien and Drogba, as well as Petr Cech's performance under the woodwork. This is a team flooded with stars that actually got the job done (nevermind the Real Madrids and Barcelonas). This brings me to another point: as I stated in a previous post, the EPL is the best league in the world right now. It doesn't matter how many star players are in teams like Real, Juve, Inter, PSV, etc, where a similar amount of stars in the EPL just seem to get the job done better. It could be said that some of the less important teams in England provide more competition for the big 4, or maybe the coaching or scouting is better. But then again world class players such as Ronaldinho didn't get their start in England, and neither did Cristiano Ronaldo or even the ex-Arsenal Thierry Henry. Whatever the reason may be, the EPL continues to set the pace for world football and continues to dominate the Champion's League, even if it does not win it.
But what about Man U? Cristiano Ronaldo. Enough said. The undisputed best player in the world at the moment. Who can deny his class and sublime touch of the ball? The likes of Rooney, Tevez, Giggs, Scholes, Anderson, Ferdinand and co. only add to this team's depth. Ronaldo's goal was nothing short of spectacular and brings to memory the Pele header in 1970 against Italy as well as Gary Lineker's strike versus Argentina in the quarterfinals of 1986.
So what's missing from the game? Well, for those of us out there that shun at the thought for watching MLS games when we can watch the great leagues of the world there's something else that would add to the game... why not have an American star in one of these teams? GK Tim Howard nearly made it so in 2004 but fell short of making it to the tournament's final. So who could be an American star in Man U or Chelsea? Let's look more closely at a potential, albeit short list:
  • Clint Dempsey - not yet. He still has much to prove in Fulham. They nearly got relegated once again and his play later in the year had only a slight impact in the team's performance.
  • Freddy Adu - great player but not enough experience just yet. Benfica's constant coach turnover may have hurt young Freddy's performance this past year. However, he has shown plenty of skill and will continue to do so during the summer Olympics.
  • Jozy Altidore - maybe. Right now he could be relegated to the bench or reserves. He would fare better in a middle-of-the-table team (Everton, Aston Villa, Man City, etc)
  • Landon Donovan - EPL is not for him. He would do better in Italy or Spain.
  • Michael Bradley - maybe. He's still a toss-up. The kid showed plenty of composure and broke several records with the Dutch side Herenveen. It remains to be seen what he does in a more demanding league, however.
  • Carlos Bocanegra - too much time on the bench this past season (with Fulham!).
  • Maurice Edu - maybe. I like this kid. Needs a little work still but he has plenty of time.
  • DaMarcus Beasley - yes. Out of all these players Beasley would be my first bet. He has shown composure in PSV and Rangers as well as the national team. Now that he's back from injury we could see him play more dominant roles in Glasgow's Rangers and why not a future in one of the top teams in the world?
All in all I think having an American star in a Champion's League final would finally bring the casual American soccer viewer to realize the true potential this country has to offer for the world's game.

Monday, May 19, 2008

MLS Attendance stats week 8

Updating you with the latest attendance figures. The Beckham effect is beginning to be felt outside of Carson, CA with the Galaxy's goal show at Pizza Hut Park on Sunday (score was 5-1 with an Edson Buddle hat-trick). Pizza Hut Park (yes, I know that's a cheesy name... pun intended) overflowed its banks outside of its provisional 20,500 (I had been working with the 20,000 mark until now) spaces to fit a Beckham crowd of 22,331. That's still almost 2,000 extra spaces filled by the English international. With international FIFA dates pending in the next few weeks it's safe to be assured that some stadiums may not reach and/or overflow capacity when the Galaxians are in town. I'm sticking in another figure that I use to track the progression of MLS attendance throughout the season. It shows MLS attendance per team (western conference) with the different lines/colors representing the different teams. I have circled the two high attendance peaks corresponding to the Galaxy's visit to both RSL and FCD. Becks has been able to raise the attendance of these two teams by about 1/3. That's a significant number. On the plot you'll also see other times Beckham was present, as was the case with Colorado's opening day (also an overflow of the stadium by about 500 people) and the general attendance at the Home Depot Center (27,000). For a couple of those games attendance was lower than capacity but still healthy compared to pre-Becks Galaxy numbers. Later on I'll provide correlations and other statistical analyses. Blanco is another player that tends to attract fans to the stands (mostly Mexican fans). Can't blame them. For my money and on the field I have to pick Blanco over Beckham. I like both players equally but Blanco has had a better time with the MLS style so far and has been able to bring Chicago out of its slump ever since he joined the team mid-way through last season. As always, Stats are on the right column so scroll down to have a look and sorry for the resolution.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Ulises De la Cruz to MLS?

Since my buds over at mls-rumors have not yet posted this interesting news I thought I might give a little chronicle on the subject. It is true, not a rumor really, that Ecuador great Ulises de la Cruz is very interested in becoming part of the MLS family. More specifically, he intends to make a move to New York. Futbolecuador.com reported this morning that the former Aston Villa/Reading FC defender has been talking to NY's Juan Pablo Angel about the possibility of coming over to MLS. We must note that they were once teammates in Aston Villa during the pinnacle of their careers. De la Cruz was always a mainstay of the defense and provided several crucial goals and assists to allow Ecuador to reach the past two world cups. Most memorable, at least to myself, was the assist to Delgado in Quito when they were a goal down and a man down to Paraguay. Another important goal was one scored against Peru in the last round of qualifiers in Lima that gave Ecuador the 2-2 tie and continued their streak of dominating Peru in qualifiers (7 games and outscoring them 16-6). As I mentioned in the mls-rumors website, the team Ulises would probably go to is New York. This is a perfect fit since Angel is there and so is a large mass of Ecuadoreans that populate the New York City area. Also, De la Cruz would add considerable dimension to the team's defense and would compliment Osorio's game plan. On a personal note I would love to watch him play. New York is one of my favorite teams with the likes of Altidore and Angel and one I recently watched in action against the local Carolina Railhawks. Considering that Ulises is out of contract with the recently relegated Reading and that he's in the latter stages of his career, adding him to the MLS would be quite a bargain. Even though he's an aging chap, he has shown great skill during his stint with Reading, notching a couple of goals and gaining considerable praise from the British press. Check him out in action below:

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Toronto FC streamers

Okay, this being an all-about-soccer website I just couldn't keep my mouth shut about this. Apparently, recent comments from ESPN's Michael Wilbon on the streamers thrown by fans in the TFC-NYRB game in which he thoroughly trashed the MLS for allowing such behavior raised more than one eyebrow in the MLS community. None other than commissioner Don Garber refuted Wilbon's comments in his blog on the MLS website and divulged his position on this type of occurrence is a unique phenomenon of the sport and one that is repeated all over the world. He also says that it's "one of our points of difference and part of what will drive our future success. There are plenty of sports leagues in the U.S. and we are not trying to offer the same in-stadium experience. We need to embrace the passion and electricity that makes soccer the world's most popular sport."
Steve Goff updated on the interchange with Wilbon's rebuttal: "Having said that, ANYTHING that interferes with the actual competition is bad. It's just awful. DON'T UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES screw around with the competition. That's not to be interactive, it's not to be influenced by anything and anybody that's not in a uniform or striped jersey on the field. Nothing and nobody is going to change my opinion on that. Ever."
I must say I agree with Goff and Garber and most other true soccer fans out there. Streamers and raucous fans running up and down the bleachers is part of the spectacle of the beautiful game. It is still present in some of the more highly regarded leagues in the world: Argentina, Mexico, Italy, etc. I haven't seen many streamers in the EPL but hooliganism in the late 80s was partly to blame for a much more subdued game-time experience that we see today (compared to the streamers, flares and confetti in South American leagues). There is always a question of safety but as one that has experienced full-fledged soccer in a South American venue, you choose where you sit and typically if you choose to sit in raucous areas you tend to be a raucous fan. To each his own. I was happy in my confy seat next to ardent fans that shouted and booed without using more physically-involved demonstrations. I paid more, yes. But that's why there are supporter's groups and sections in the stadiums.
I'm including video of a typical futbol game in Argentina with the beloved Xeneizes. Atmosphere, people. Boca brings it. TFC has it. Let's have fun with it. In all my years going to sports events I never saw a more dedicated group of fans than those in a Ecuador clasico: Barcelona - Emelec. Not even the [american] football match between Florida and LSU could match it ...just as loud, yes.... but where's the pyrotechnics?
I love my futbol. Bring on the streamers.

MLS Attendance stats week 7

I have updated the attendance figures and loaded them onto the right column complete with attendance averages and relative averages for each conference. I've done a great deal more in the way of graphical analysis that I will share with you throughout the season. In the meantime I've inserted pie graphs of the current attendance figures and how each team's attendance relates to the other teams in its conference. In the east DCU and TFC lead the way with their fervent fans. I must note that only DC and KC have had 4 games. All other teams have 3 home games each. Out west the story is different. Here we see the large Beckham effect with 5 home games for the Galaxy at or near capacity (27,000). Honorable mention to the great fans of recently-expanded RSL. May their new home continue to bring fans and turn into a new cauldron in the west. Also note that San Jose has a much smaller stadium (Buck Shaw, 10,500) and thus will have a modest presence in this table. Chivas lags far behind, although this may partially be due to unrest amongst factions of its supporters. Enjoy the figs and let me know if there's something else you'd like analyzed and shown here.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

BMO folds?

Potentially sad news for soccer [futbol] enthusiasts and full-time MLS fans. MLS-rumors is reporting that the CFL team Toronto Argonauts may be looking to move into the stadium and add 10,000 seats to the 20,000 already in place. Double-edge sword, right? For on the first hand, TFC would be able to increase its capacity to meet the overwhelming demand from their enviable fanbase. On the other hand we'd have yet another MLS team with the embarrassing and downright ugly football field lines. It's still sad to see football field lines during MLS games in some of the stadiums. For instance, RSL plays at Rice Eccles stadium until their stadium gets completed sometime in the summer or fall. It's not football season until the fall, correct? And why then are there lines and the letters "UTAH" in the goal areas? The guys on FSC's Fox Football Fone-in show spoke of the eyesore that was seeing a beautiful Beckham goal scored in a field akin to the NASL's pitches of the 70s and 80s. How does this look for the league when we know this is the one highlight that will be seen around the world? It undermines the integrity of the league and prevents it from being taken seriously by soccer fans from around the world. There's word that TFC fans may rise up against this move and there's hope still that it may not happen. Let's hope so. BMO is the crowning jewel of the league right now in terms of fans and atmosphere [click here for my commentary on it]. Let's not see it tarnished by taking a step in the wrong direction.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

MLS Attendance stats week 6

Here's a few figures that convey the current trends in the all-important MLS attendance. Toronto gets high marks, of course, with their die-hard fans that show up on week nights with sippy-cup beers and red and white streamers to throw at the opposition. San Jose and Kansas City have smaller stadiums suited to their smaller but loyal fanbases. New England, Columbus and New York are running really low despite a.)being number 2 in the nation (NE), b.)having an awesome team right now (CLB), and c.) being the capital of the world that easily fills Giants stadium when Barcelona or Beckham comes to mind. With that said, I believe everything is relative. Therefore, I have calculated and displayed the relative aspects of MLS attendance. I'll have more figures for you in the future that will also include the role of Becks and Co. in terms of attendance. I will permanently post attendance figures on the right column albeit at a coarser resolution.
In the meantime, some "star power" stats for you:
  • Beckham: total in all stadiums (TS) 142,040; relative per capacity (RpC) 91%
  • Blanco: TS 98,093; RpC* 108%
  • Gallardo: TS 93,452; RpC 72%
  • Lopez: TS 84,452; RpC* 88%
  • Angel: TS 69,599; RpC 61%
*Blanco's numbers are enhanced by the Earthquake's game being taken to McAfee Coliseum for the match. Lopez's attendance is higher in relative terms since KC's stadium is much smaller. Also worth noting is that Angel did not participate in 3 of the 5 matches NYRB has played so far this season. I figure that these stats will level off once the hype of the start of the season is over and Beckham has covered more arenas.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Premier Relegation

Fulham wins today. The all-American Premier League team is close to safety from relegation. Much has been said about this Premier League side and its American contingent. Whilst Clint Dempsey made a name for himself with 7 goals early this season and Brian McBride started scoring for him lately, winning crucial games for them in the process, other players such as MLS standout Eddie Johnson and US national team captain Carlos Bocanegra have been relegated to the bench and sometimes to the team reserves. How does this play out for the US national team? True, Bocanegra was still on the bench for all the recent Fulham games and this may, as some commentators have suggested, count as a strategic move by the Craven Cottage Coach. He just recently scored in a shocker win against Poland in Polish territory so I hope he can get back on track at the club level soon or his time as national team member/captain could be compromised. There has been serious speculation about EJ's recent performance both club-wise and in the national team. Some, like Ives Galarcep are worried that he could turn out to be another Clint Mathis and whither out of the picture. I hope not. EJ has good treatment of the ball and I think that with Fulham he showed pretty good skill but was somehow afraid to take more chances. As for Dempsey's future... he should have no problem finding a Premier League job if Fulham does indeed get relegated. McBride on the other hand should consider going back to the Crew, where a blue-collar fanbase is ready to refill the stands if they have their hero back.
Another side that could go down into the Coca-Cola Championship is Reading. I've seen them play and they are certainly lacking in the final touch and their defense is anything but stellar at the moment. It's too bad, because one of their players is once Ecuador great Ulises de la Cruz. He is getting old, however, so I can see why he's on the bench. Bobby Convey certainly hasn't looked anywhere near as good as when he played in the US. Recent national team play has also shown this downward trend in his play. As for the goalkeepers, Kelsey and Hahnemann might be headed to the MLS. Indeed, Hahnemann has stated more than once that he'd like to be in the expansion Seattle team next season. That would be great for the league and for them as well.
As for Derby County. Hopeless. I feel for their fans. Sometimes teams are just bad and need restructuring. Benny Feilhaber should try to find work elsewhere. He was seldom used in this team and has a bright future if we count his various appearances with the national team.