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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Sore losers

I had to get my word in on this because it's just ridiculous. What sore losers were the Atlante players at the end of last night's SuperLiga match against New England Revolution. For those of you unfamiliar with the SuperLiga: it is a tournament between the MLS and FMF (Mexican league) that pairs up 4 teams from each league in groups that play each other during the start of the Mexican Apertura tournament and the middle of the MLS tournament. It's worth nothing internationally and has limited attendance. I think it would be more appropriate if it were a playoff for spots in the Conmebol's (South American conference) Copa Sudamericana or Copa Libertadores. I don't really see its viability.
Back to the content about last night's match. In my view, the Revs dominated play, scored a legitimate goal and won the game outright. This morning on XM Deportivo (in Spanish, of course) I heard the Mexican media completely trounce the game official(s). They complained of having Mexican teams always lose favor in Concacaf and in Conmebol. In Concacaf they insist that there is a prejudice since Mexico has the most dominant league. I looked at goal.com (in Spanish click on the button for the language at the top of the page) and they didn't say anything about it being unfair, however. Maybe it's something strictly for the Mexican media. They also said they doubt Mexican teams will continue playing in the SuperLiga if such treatment continues to happen. Some of the local XM Deportivo commentators insisted that things were being blown out of proportion and that being based here (XM personnel), they should support the MLS.
Interesting stuff. What do you guys think?

Soccerbud: Eric Wynalda

Truth be told, one of my more cherished soccer moments had to be the free kick* taken by Eric Wynalda against Switzerland at the USA '94 World Cup. For some wild reason (I was a kid and living in the USA prior to the internet and with little info on soccer) I hadn't taken into account that the world cup would take place in the United States before I (we) decided to spend the summer in Ecuador. Back then Ecuador was still a lowly semi-pro soccer nation beaten out of existence by teams like Bolivia and Uruguay.
Wynalda had to be my favorite player for the US squad. Alexi Lalas, Cobi Jones, and Tony Meola also caught my eye during that famed soccer event. Back then I used to side with Germany (noting my background in a German elementary school while growing up) and never sided with south american sides (Colombia, Brazil, Argentina). Thus, the USA's win against Colombia (yes, the demise of Escobar after his own goal comes to mind) saw me as the lone cheerleader in a living room full of Ecuadoreans.
Wynalda did more for US soccer than most will admit these days. He has been outspoken and ousted from ESPN for his flowery language and unfortunate references (repeatedly referred to C. Blanco as a player "he loved to hate" while praising him for his abilities on the field; also referred to flares in Bridgeview's Toyota Park as "looking like California" during its unfortunate wild fire stint a year ago). Wynalda also wrote his name in soccer lore with the first ever goal in MLS with the [cheeselly named] San Jose Clash. His goal scoring record for the national team (33, I believe) was only recently broken by Landon Donovan. I'm happy to say that his outspoken nature has not gone away and he will continue to grace us diehard soccer fans through the written medium in the MajorLeagueSoccer mag (yes, I subscribed). His latest rants deal with the coaching crisis in MLS and how he feels the better coaches are those who have risen through the MLS ranks as players in the league (Kinnear, Nicol, Preki, Nowak) and that supercoaches like Ruud Gullit simply won't work in the league because they aren't aware of its many facets (salary cap, long-distance travel, etc). I actually like Gullit and I think he may work . . . but that's another blog entry.

*I'll have video highlights of the goal once youtube starts working properly. You can view it here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

MLS Attendance stats week 18

I concur with my BigSoccer soccerbuds that not much has changed this week in terms of attendance. A few small caveats, however. Dallas saw it's attendance values go up thanks to another sellout Beckham crowd. That also effectively brought their numbers up for the 08-07 difference and their deficit doesn't look quite so bad. Only Columbus and KC remain in attendance difference limbo and both teams have yet to see Becks come to town. The difference from the total final numbers for last season is actually just 289 below. It's safe to assume that final numbers may well be higher than last season's and echoing BigSoccer, this should be the second best attendance record since 1996 (founding of MLS). Some have postulated that maybe we shouldn't be counting that season either.
This time around I wanted to go a bit more in-depth into some of the graphical statistics. Previously I had compared relative attendance to average attendance numbers. I'm doing something similar with the plot on your right except this time it's average attendance vs median for teams in the eastern conference. This is also a way to show how one Beckham game can alter a team's mean attendance but it's median will still be quite small. Such is the case with New England although their higher mean is actually due to a double header with a Brazil international game at Gillette Stadium. When Becks comes to town the numbers should be even higher, effectively masking out the true nature of their poor attendance for a team that is unstoppable this season (minus Twellman!). The plot also reveals that although New York has seen its share of <10K games (2, to be exact), the majority of their games have actually been respectable. DC's median lags behind its mean while the opposite is true for the Crew, who saw the lowest attendance for a single game this season at 6733. KC's average is actually slightly less than its median and this even in an already small venue. TFC rules, enough said (and I'm far from being Canadian).

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Commentary: Tuzos USA??

Since my buds over at MLSrumors are taking their time with this one, I thought I would break the news to the english-speaking world. The show Futbol de Primera on XM Satellite Radio's XM Deportivo had a report with an interview with Pachuca president Jesus Martinez in which he asserted that Pachuca is working closely with both MLS and USL with the possibility of bringing the franchise to the United States and putting a team in one of the above mentioned leagues. You can listen to it on the fdpradio.com website under "Jesus Ramirez y los proyectos de Pachuca" (in Spanish: Jesus Martinez and the Pachuca Projects). This is reminiscent of our report about CD America looking to do the same thing with MLS. I hope more information about Pachuca and MLS/USL will surface in the next few days. I thought that CD America coming to the MLS would be interesting, but with Pachuca I'm beginning to think we're pushing it a little. This is an American league, as some readers of this website have made clear in the past, one or even two teams loosely bound to teams abroad is one thing. We don't want to turn the MLS into another mexican league plus some original MLS teams. Personally, I'd like to see a Barca USA or Boca Jrs USA before another Club America or Tuzos USA. As far as them going to the USL , be my guest(they already have teams like Crystal Palace USA). That's something worth tapping into and can create a formative league for an ever expanding MLS, especially noting that the league is on the verge of adding two additional Canadian teams. But that's a story worth an entire blog entry.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

MLS Attendance stats week 17

The Becks parade continues to rage on in the Eastern conference, bringing numbers much higher than in the beginning of the season. Although the New York-LA game may not have been as high in attendance as it was last year, it was large enough to bring NYRB's season average above that of last year's (see the 07-08 plot difference). Because I know a lot of you out there in bigsoccerland like to see other aspects of statistics, I'm including median plots for the east and the west in high definition (just click for full page). Note that NY's median is still higher than 15,000 even though they had two games below 10,000 this season. Their relative attendance currently sits at 69%, much better than NE, RSL, CHV, DAL.

New England's meager attendance shows its ugly face in the median analysis (KC not included do to a smaller stadium). Even so, NE's attendance is not much differend than it was a year ago for the entire season (see difference plot). I've also read that KC's game with LA will be held at Arrowhead. This should put another inflationary figure into the Eastern conference and effectively raise KC's average to make it look more like San Jose's out west (>120% relative attendance). Therein lies the Achilles heel of relative analysis and this has prompted me to come up with a relative median that I will introduce in the coming weeks. Such a number will, hopefully, do away with the inflationary effects of switching venues. This isn't the same problem with DC, NE or NY since their inherent MLS capacity is already twice that of SJ and KC.
Just wanted to remind everyone and to alert new visitors to the site: all numbers are based on official public MLS numbers and all plots are on the right column.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

MLS Attendance stats week 16

Week 16 update. For this week I decided to change the "MLS capacity" for the Houston Dynamo from 32,000 to 27,000 per the suggestion of a reader. I had been wondering about this for a while since Houston's numbers were lower in relative terms when compared to the other teams out west even though their average attendance was second only to the Galaxy. This change added 10 points to Houston's relative attendance pushing it up to 62%. It may have changed the overall numbers but only for the relative plots and only when Houston had a home game. As a highlight this week I'm including a relative vs average attendance plot for the western conference, similar to what I did for the east last week. You'll notice that the numbers tend to cluster around 15K for averages with varying levels of relative attendance (lowest for Chivas and highest for Colorado). Still, notice that the difference plots show that Chivas is one of only 3 teams exceeding the 2008 numbers. These numbers, as you know, are transient and we can expect important changes in the next few weeks. LA-NY on Saturday should shift a lot of numbers for New York and in general terms as well. I expect Chivas to remain strong for the rest of the season, keeping in mind that they still must "host" Beckham and the LA circus.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

PREVIEW: MLS Attendance stats week 16

Since a lot of attendance analysis out in MLS soccerland is looking into other meaningful statistics like median, I thought I would follow along and create some new plots. These plots will not be regulars like the ones on the right column but instead I'll post them from time to time to show interesting trends. I think they speak for themselves by showing the markedly low attendance in places like New England, Kansas City and San Jose. This analysis also takes away the inflationary effects of overattendance due to Beckham and/or scheduled international doubleheaders. The analysis also makes Houston look better than its relative attendance suggests. I still wonder if the 32,000 capacity at Robertson Stadium is also the MLS capacity but I've had no word on a different number. Also note that LA's numbers show just how many times they have sold out the stadium since the median is 27,000. Another surprising number is New York's. Even though they've had two games under 10K, it still doesn't mean attendance has been that bad overall.
These plots are only valid through week 16. Full week 16 numbers and plots will be posted tomorrow.

Claudio calls it quits... New York gains a marquee spot?

I thought I would give my thoughts on the latest development in the MLS. Multiple sites, including breaking news from SBI and ESPN, have leaked out the news that will be made official tomorrow: Claudio Reyna has decided to retire from soccer immediately. There will not be a long wait until the end of the season. There will not be a vacant hole in NYRB's midfield (or will there?). There will not be a designated player slot taken up in the East Rutherford-based side.
As I posted on the SBI site earlier, I must say I loved the guy and what he did for the sport in the United States, the national team, and American soccer player's reputation in Europe. I may even say he facilitated the move of McBride, Bradley, Altidore and Co.
NYRB needs to think hard about this one now. As far as the designated player rule is concerned, there is one allocation to each team in which the salary cap is non-existent and the owners can spend however much they want for a marquee player (Beckham, Blanco, Lopez, Gallardo, Angel). New York traded Amado Guevara to Chivas USA last year for a second spot. Guevara never worked for Preki (he now plays for TFC after a year in his native Guatemala). With this DP allocation, New York added Reyna on top of Juan Pablo Angel (who scored 19 goals last year).
As far as a new DP in MLS, Henry is a likely choice but so is Ronaldo and Adriana and Figo. No need to be hasty at this point and they may want to wait until next season to make a run for MLS Cup and a place in international tournaments. This, according to SBI and other sources, will likely be the end result. There's speculation that the $200,000 pro-rated money that is left could indeed be used this season to bolster the Red Bull's attack. A wise choice, I would say. There's plenty of players out there worth 200K that would pair up with Angel to furnish the dividends missing after Jozy's departure to Villareal.
In my humble opinion, and assuming that Angel is healthy, the DP slot should be given to an attacking midfielder, a great passer, a number 10 that could turn this team around and give it what it has so sorely needed for the 13 years of its existence... a title.
Or... maybe it's time to rework the salary cap and make the league more competitive in the process. I think Reyna's exit will mean more than just a great player's absence; it should mean a reevaluation of the league.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Another Olympic Failure*?

Amidst talks of clubs not allowing some of their players to participate in the U-23 Olympic tournament, new questions have been raised about the validity of the tournament and the relationship between the Olympic Committee and FIFA. Mainly Brazilian-based players Diego and Rafinha are affected at this point. Kaka was rotundly negated permission by AC Milan to join the Brazilian squad even though it was his personal wish to be at the tournament. Keep in mind that the Olympics are the only major tournament Brazil has never won.
Deportes de Primera radio hosts on XM Deportivo suggested that either the Olympic tournament would whither away by losing its rank in the top soccer competitions or FIFA would have to flex its muscle to intervene and make sure that teams cede their U-23 players. Such players include big names like Alexandre Pato, Lionel Messi and even our own Jozy Altidore. Another important thing to remember is that European clubs are weary of exhaustion for the players and potential injuries that would hamper a teams' chances in domestic play. In addition, teams have already dealt with the significant involvement of their more experienced players in Euro 2008 and world cup qualifying in the other confederations. Added to this is the fact that Olympic play starts near the end of summer break and at the beginning of the season for major European leagues. Jozy Altidore risks being out of contention for a spot in the first team for Villareal if he's on duty at the Olympics.
So what should the answer be? Make it official (FIFA) that all teams should cede their U-23 players for Olympic play. There are also 3 overage players that can participate in the event. I would hope those could be at a team's discretion. All that said, I hope FIFA can come to terms with this situation and we can have an enjoyable tourney. Argentina looks set to win it all as long as the players they called get to participate. Their team is absolutely loaded with the likes of Messi and Aguero leading a team that boasts overage players Juan Riquelme, Javier Mascherano and Nicolas Burdisso.
Enjoy the games (we hope).
*Olympic failure refers to Mexico's elimination at the qualifying stage. It was the term used by Mexican officials and what cost Hugo Sanchez his job. They tied Canada, lost to Guatemala and only managed +4 goals against Haiti.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

MLS Attendance stats week 15

Enter DCU. Attendance wise, that is. As DCU fans already know, RFK usually attracts a good crowd. Beckham coming to town last week, coupled with Euro hype drew out a good crowd of 35,979. That was enough to catapult DC to above 20,000 for attendance average, thus surpassing TFC. In relative terms, however, TFC still reigns supreme in the East. Per the request of a BigSoccer member, I decided to look at the average attendance vs relative attendance per team. Today, due to time constraints, I've only done it for the East.
Also, for the sake of completeness, here's the official "MLS capacity" for each of the stadiums:
DC: 24,500
KC: 10,385
NE: 20,000
CLB: 22,500
TFC: 20,000
CHI: 20,000
NYRB: 25,576
Also keep in mind that some of these stadiums (RFK, Giants, Gillette) can hold a lot more in their actual NFL capacity. BMO field is listed at 20,000 but the stadium holds another three to five hundred more seats if necessary. Same goes for some of the other SS stadiums in the league, i.e. Dallas, etc.

*Week 15 does not include 3 games from week 16. They will be posted next week. This is to avoid confusion when looking at the figures so that all teams are well represented.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Commentary: Club America de Mexico interested in expanding into MLS

As I posted on the MLS Rumors website, XM Satellite Radio's XM Deportivo Deportes De Primera radio show reported that Club America de Mexico is looking to "reach out" to its considerable following in the United States and also look for partnerships with MLS. Michael Bauer, recently elected president of said institution, discusses among other things, participation of America in MLS.
As to whether this is an exploratory partnership a-la-Bundesliga or a rebranding of one of the MLS teams or acquiring a new team remains to be seen.
From some of the comments posted following the story there are two clear sides to the coin: Chivas USA didn't work and this is an American league, and the other, potential rivalries could spark up with Chivas or other teams and an additional border state team could take shape. I might even venture to say FC Dallas could change names (their attendance is meager at best right now). Further, maybe Chicago--as suggested by soccer365.com some time back--could also rebrand and have an excuse to cling on to Blanco for another season (his contract expires at the end of 2008). [Also note that Chivas USA is among a few teams that have seen increases in attendance this year... just look at the 07-08 difference plot.]
Although I tend to side with some of the fans and bloggers out there that this should be an American league, there is nothing wrong with having teams be named after teams abroad. It actually happens to be common practice in Latin America and, and nobody seemed too concerned about this, teams such as FC Barcelona and Boca Juniors have expressed interest in starting up an MLS franchise with their name on it.
We must also be objective and realize that there is a large Hispanic (mainly Mexican) population in the States and that these are soccer-addicted individuals. I also see nothing wrong with repatriating players such as Orozco to play for the red, white and blue. Maybe more transfers will take place between the MLS and the Mexican Leauge. This would be a great deal for the MLS, accruing increasingly more experience against foreign teams that may get the league play in tournaments outside the SuperLiga and Concachampions. . . but that is another thread.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Liga de Quito Campeón de la Libertadores de América

Amazing. Maybe Ecuador won't make it to 2010 but Liga de Quito's incredible run in the Copa Libertadores (move aside, Champions League) will serve as the last stepping point for Ecuador futbol in the world stage. No longer a cinderella, no longer a push-over, exporting stars like Edison Mendez, Antonio Valencia, Joffre Guerron, and co., and going to two straight world cups undoubtedly prove the quality of play in this diminutive South American country. They did it beating one of the South American giants, a brazilian team, no less. Fluminense proved its home advantage at the Maracana of Rio was a formidable obstacle. Still, a 3-1 was not enough and penalties came. Enter Jose Francisco "Pepe Pancho" Cevallos and 3 amazing saves worthy of Buffon, Goycochea, Ravelli, Zoff, Casillas. Pepe Pancho Cevallos was the amazing goalie missing from 2006 and the start of qualifying for 2010. We must not forget that it was through this 'keeper's hands that Ecuador arrived at KoreaJapan 2002. What now? Celebrate, of course. Even though Liga may not be my team they still make me proud. Liga wins, critics are silenced (my uncle included, of course) and the people rejoice. Quality, speed, savvy play, amazing passes, sublime plays, incredible atmosphere, Guerron and Urrutia and Manzo and Salas and Delgado and Cevallos and Bieler and Campos and Bolanos and everyone in between. Well done, Liga. Well done, Ecuador. Party on, Quito.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

World Cup USA 2010????

In a move that would shake up the soccer world and the United States, multiple sources are indicating that FIFA's alleged plan B for South Africa 2010 would be held in America. This news comes by way of XM Deportivo's Deportes De Primera morning satellite radio show, goal.com, fox, and many others out there. With possible moves ranging from Ronaldinho to the Galaxy and Ronaldo to New York, the US is increasingly becoming a key player in world football. More to come as I get the news.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

MLS Attendance stats week 14

Out of the Euro hangover we come to mid-season shake-ups with trades galore from the potential Conde-Ruiz-McBride megadeal to modest acquisitions by the Red Bulls with Rojas, etc. Attendance has finally shown the Beckham effect for the past couple of weeks, if maybe not the immediate ones. Becks has begun his eastern conference tour and numbers for a lot of those teams should be coming up. Don't be too discouraged by the 07-08 difference. Remember that it's the 2007 season total average. On that note, I just recently read that the mean attendance for Fluminense of Brazil is actually around 17,000. Tomorrow's game versus Liga for the Libertadores should attract 90,000+. But isn't it interesting that a brazilian team would have this kind of mean turnout? Actually, it makes sense. People are too poor in latin america to go to every game a-la-EPL. Even some EPL games aren't completely sold out. As always I suggest a certain degree of caution when looking at these numbers. Below is a nice close-up of what the designated players (5 of them, minus Donovan and Reyna) are doing. Note that I will, for the time being, not put american players under this classification to provide a clearer picture. I've highlighted the two spikes (Blanco and Becks) during their visits to San Jose at McAfee. Becks usually hovers around the 100% mark, save for a couple of home games most considered boring. Blanco attracts crowd but it depends on the demographic. Gallardo benefits from the DC crowds and Lopez from the intimacy of the CAB. Angel has dismal numbers from a fickle New York crowd. Also, note that the "stars" may not have played on some of those games.

Ronaldo to MLS? (Milan does not renew contract)

According to goal.com, "el fenomeno" Ronaldo has not been offered a contract renewal by his current club AC Milan. I thought I would break this story before others pick up on it to get my comments in.
Ronaldo is recovering from a ligament tear in his left knee suffered at a match against Livorno in February. He is expected to be healthy again in 2009. Considering that this is his second grave injury (right knee was the first one when playing for Inter) and that he's 31 years old (32 in September), he seems to be in Beckham territory at the moment.
Although he has been linked with a move to Fluminense, it would only be proper to have him continue his play in the MLS where his name is recognizable and where the speed and physicality of play isn't as demanding as in major European leagues (no offense, just being objective). I would put him in New York for obvious reasons. Ronaldo has been linked more than once with MLS and NYRB so it wouldn't come as a shock if it does actually happen. Thoughts?