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Thursday, May 28, 2009

MLS 2009 Attendance stats week 11

Another quick one. It's nice to see Colorado (16528) and Dallas (9595) partly recover. Outside of the Champion's League hoopla we have our domestic league nearing the halfway point. As I watch a replay of yesterday's final ahead of today's collision between top Western team Chivas against Blanco and his Eastern leaders Chicago I suddenly realize that the reason they are showing these games back to back is possibly because ESPN lost out the television rights of next season's Champions League to Fox Soccer Channel. What will this do to the sport in the US? God only knows. ESPN has been dropping the ball when it comes to MLS coverage by somehow regarding it as less of a sport than poker (why is this on sports TV in the first place?). Still, I think ESPN should capitalize on this by targeting international soccer more. Maybe following the top teams in the world through qualifying, friendlies, etc.

Back to MLS attendance. Another look at how my relative attendance figures match up against raw numbers in the western conference. This allows us to see the capacity of each of the stadiums and how full they are from a cumulative standpoint. Notice that San Jose, for example, has very low attendance numbers but its capacity means a full stadium on most days. To me that's more important. I rather have a full small stadium than a mostly empty giant one (Giants Stadium, Gillette, etc.).

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Treble is now complete: Barcelona conquer Rome

Copa del Rey, Spanish La Liga, and the UEFA Champions League. Barcelona downed the post powerful and highly decorated English side, Manchester United in a final fit for kings. It started with an impressive Manchester United with Park and Rooney on the wings and a brilliant Cristiano Ronaldo that only lacked in the luck department. Indeed, it could have been 3 goals for the Red Devils in the first 10 minutes. It was not to be.

Enter Eto'o, the brilliant Cameroon ace that has so often dazzled us with his play and impeccable finish. A twist around Ferdinand and Vidic and a near-post shot that Van der Saar will shudder at when he replays the game (if he ever does). After that it was 90% Barcelona. What happened to the stout Man U defense and the leaky back line of Barcelona that was missing Marquez and Abidal? Toure's shift out of midfield and the Silvinho-Pique tandem seemed to work quite well. Puyol had his career night, period.

On top of all these positives we also have the master (young master) Lionel Messi. What sublime touches and spectacular millimetric passes. And his goal in the 70th... perfect. A lobbed header past an outplayed Van der Saar. Keep in mind that the Argentine isn't terribly tall either. He leaned back in the middle of the air and cushioned it slightly with his forehead giving it just enough momentum to arch its way over the dutch keeper.

And what went wrong with Manchester United? 4-3-3 was too offensive for them without enough goal scorers. Putting Park so high up was a gamble, as was giving Ronaldo the center forward spot with Rooney on the left. Andersson was absent, Giggs muted and Park ineffective. Starting the game with Tevez instead of Park, dropping Ronaldo to the center midfield may have been better against an inspired Barca defense. Added to this was Puyol and Pique's frequent incursions into the Man U side of the pitch. I only wish Puyol could have scored just to round out the best performance of his life.

So cheers to you, Barcelona. May Catalunia party tonight and reign for another year as the continent's (and the world's) best club team.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

European seasons end, International summer begins

Club football around the world is winding down ahead of the busy summer international schedule. It seems that FIFA has finally gotten it right. If only USSF and MLS would follow along we would have a truly global, coherent schedule. Then again, we have to consider the boreal winter in regions like Scandinavia and Russia and Canada. Alas! The main tournaments in Europe have ended. Crowned again are Manchester United (second in a row) and Inter Milan (fourth in a row). Also on top are Barcelona (Spain), Rangers (Scotland) and the surprising Wolfsburg (German Bundesliga).

It was Germany that had the best soccer stories of the year. Mighty Bayern Munich could not perform even after the sacking of Juergen Klinsmann. It seems that maybe they should have kept Landon Donovan after his loan was up, right? But it was a decidedly Brazilian contingent (Josue, Grafite) in Wolfsburg that gave the first Bundesliga title to the franchise. All other stats aside, it was a nail-biting finish in the Bundesliga... and the same goes for one of our own--Michael Bradley, the US head coach's son who took his team (Moenchengladbach) out of the relegation zone to battle it out in the Bundesliga for one more year.

And that brings me to the next point... Relegation. People fear it more than anything in non-American circles. This year it was the Magpies turn to go down as Newcastle United crashed out of the Premier League in England. This is a storied team that rose to certain prominence in the 1990s, finishing second in the EPL in 1996 and 1997. Some of the more familiar names to have gone through its ranks include Alan Shearer, Coloccini, Les Ferdinand, Paul Gascoigne, Viduka and Michael Owen. Hull City, after an impressive run early in the EPL's first semester was actually in Champion's League zone thanks to magistry from Geovanni, among others. Fulham, home of Clint Dempsey actually didn't need to worry about dropping out of the EPL this season. They will now play in next season's Europa League (to replace Uefa Cup).

So what's next? Will Real Madrid snatch up C. Ronaldo and Mourinho? Will Inter Milan make it any farther in the Champion's League? Will Man U part ways with Tevez and give space to an up-and-coming Macheda?

First things first. Wednesday's Champions League clash of the titans between Manchester United and Barcelona. Then the FA Cup with Everton against Chelsea. In the new continent we have Mexican league winding down for its summer break as well as Argentina and other Latin American countries. Copa Libertadores has more of a Brazilian flavor this time around. For those of you who can't get enough of the king of all sports, there's the MLS. If you're not one convinced by the league then I suggest watching games with Chicago, Chivas, Seattle, DC, Columbus and Toronto. Always fun and a lot more quality than you may think. And then there is the international schedule. World Cup Qualifiers galore (starts June 3), the Confederations Cup that pits the US against Brazil, Italy and Egypt, and a (inconsequential) Gold Cup. I'll be back with more on the US's chances in qualifiers and international cups.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

MLS 2009 Attendance stats week 10

Somehow I don't feel the DPs are working out in terms of attendance. On the field is a whole other matter that is up for debate. Things have improved, however, in places like Salt Lake and Columbus which are climbing up from their early season attendance cellars. Just last week RSL had a nearly full stadium in a game they lost to KC. On my last post I included a graphic of East conference time series. Below is the same for the West. Noteworthy is the stability of Chivas attendance, the rise of RSL, and the relatively disappointing Beckham-less Galaxy numbers. No sellouts this year.

Monday, May 18, 2009

FC Dallas: Original MLS, team in flux

I, along with some of my readers have been wondering just what the heck is wrong with Dallas--the soccer team that is. Once, they were known as the Dallas Burn. Not one of my favorite names at all. Easy to make fun of as well, especially for those not familiar with the league--or the sport. Now, rechristened in 2005 as a more Euro-style brand, the MLS team became FC Dallas. Its silly firebreath horse was replaced by a bull with the lone star as prevalent as the other teams in the city.

Let's step back a bit. Dallas was runner's up to the Supporter's Shield in 2006, or for non-MLSers this is their version of highest regular season point total. This number 2 slot was its biggest accolade since winning the US Open Cup in 1997 and runners-up in 2005 and 2007. But never a trophy in MLS. Only the Rapids and New England have failed to win in MLS but both made it to the final at least once (New England has done so 4 times). Further back we find aces like Colombia's Leonel Alvarez from USA 94 fame, the Pentapichihchi Hugo Sanchez himself, Ariel Graziani (Ecuador-Argentinian), Duilio Davino and even--briefly--Denilson of Brazil.... That's right, the same Denilson from 2002's Brazil. It just so happens that FCD jumped on the designated player bandwagon way too early and their investment flopped.

On the pitch it's been very dull for them. Even during the days of Toja, Mina and even Graziani, their play was never as attractive and their fan base loyal but limited. In fact, they themselves rebranded more than once. From the Inferno to the "Hoops nation" that has now become the FC Dallas Fan Network. Steve Morrow did not produce with the team as coach, and neither did Dave Dir or Mike Jeffries. Currently, and after many years of pursuit by team owners, Schellas Hyndman took control of the team. He complained about defensive inabilities last season as Morrow was booted out. The team he has doesn't seem quite gelled yet. Their soccer tends to be a bit boring at times, with Andre Rocha and Kenny Cooper being the more attractive players. Coop is also a former Man U player that didn't make the squad (go figure).

The central lacking of the team, in my humble mind as a passive audience member, is in their delivery and inventiveness with the ball. I venture to say that they need just an extra spark from a natural #10 to break the ice. Dave van den Bergh was a nice addition but more depth is needed in that spot. A Christian Gomez or DeRosario or Blanco is what's needed. Too bad Denilson didn't work... On another note, in terms of attendance for the squad, we have to remind ourselves that they used to play in the cavernous Cotton Bowl from 1996-2002 before moving to a high school stadium near Fort Worth in 2003. Some lobbying by fans and vendors (no beer at a public school, please) took the team back to the Cotton Bowl until their own Pizza Hut Park with 20,500 seats opened its doors in 2005. Here are their average attendance figures for all the years in the clubs existence (acknowledge Wikipedia on this data):

regular season/playoffs

  • 1996: 16,011
  • 1997: 9,678
  • 1998: 10,948
  • 1999: 12,211
  • 2000: 13,102
  • 2001: 12,574
  • 2002: 13,112
  • 2003: 7,906/missed playoffs
  • 2004: 9,088/missed playoffs
  • 2005: 11,189/10,104
  • 2006: 14,982/15,486
  • 2007: 15,145/12,537
  • 2008: 13,024/missed playoffs
  • All-Time: 11,535

Sunday, May 17, 2009

MLS 2009 Attendance stats week 9

You can now follow me on Twiter. I'm not really sure what that means but I thought it might be worth noting. MLS games have been sort of scrambled the past couple of weeks due to midweek play. That messes up my analysis and it takes me a little while to collate everything so that it makes sense on a "weekly" basis. On that note, I wanted to update everyone on what's been happening with fans at stadiums. Where on the one hand you have expansion teams (Philly, Vancouver) selling out seats ahead of their respective start dates (2010 and 2011), on the other hand we have classic teams like Dallas trying everything to bring fans to games.

Indeed, a recent game day deal included free stuff and other considerations. Seattle, meanwhile, has expanded their MLS capacity from 27700 to 32000. This tinkers with my relative attendance analysis but I'm trying to coalesce the two seamlessly so that it works. So what do these very different turn of events mean? Either a honeymoon phase with Seattle or a reluctance of having a poor team in Dallas. Go figure. FCD has to do something soon or they risk losing their franchise. Their one advantage over other markets? Pizza Hut Park. Yes, the "Hoops" have their own home.

I also wanted to show a time series of the eastern conference attendance. After an early fall out during their second week of play, most markets have stabilized and/or recovered. Case in point, look at the defending champs, Columbus, bounce back to ~15K. Chicago's low attendance also bothers me, as does New York's fan base. Red Bull Park could become another Pizza Hut Park next year if the NYRB ownership team doesn't try something new. Otherwise, let's play with the names... Have some pizza with your red bull drink.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

MLS 2009 Attendance stats week 8

Howdy... very quick update. Basically, everything you need is on the right hand column. Some hard numbers:
FCD is operating with a median of 33% capacity this year. Average is 9747. Only KC comes in under that: 9321. Keep in mind that KC's stadium only holds about 10,500 anyway. A 18k seat stadium is in the works. The mean vs median puts things into perspective:

Welcome, Philadelphia Union. Hopefully your 18,500 seater will be full for most matches... Nice rivalries with New York and DC should be a highlight. Here's their logo.... Very chic, very Euro style and a nice name. Enjoy the stats and see you next week.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mexico's Conmebol woes: What it means to the USSF and MLS

I think we have all pretty much heard the news. Mexico gets the swine flu. Other countries close their doors and quarantine people that have been in Mexico or are Mexican. Competitions and other activities within Mexico shut down due to the outbreak, and delays occur for international fixtures for both Conmebol and Concacaf competitions. It started with delaying Chivas and San Luis's matches with Sao Paulo and Ncaional of Uruguay. No one wanted to play on Mexican soil. Colombia denied permission to have Mexican home fixtures on their territory. The matches were reinstated and were scheduled again for the Mexican teams.... And the Conmebol teams refused to play on Mexico.

What followed was both sad and understandable at the same time. Mexico pulled out of the Libertadores and subsequently of all Conmebol competitions. This includes the Sudamericana and Copa America. It is a sad fact that the competitiveness and financial considerations of Mexican presence in these tournaments will be lost. But Mexican teams and fans have long squabbled with South American dignitaries about the lack of sportsmanship, match fixing and general discontent of Conmebol teams against Mexican teams. Such was the case with "el Bofo" Bautista in a Boca Juniors incident as well as not allowing Mexican referees until this season.

But what is the general context of this ordeal for the US? I think it's a great opportunity to jump into competition with South America that so many fans and commentators have clamored for. let MLS teams play the Libertadores and Sudamericana. Can this happen? Will this happen? Why not? There will be a vacuum there for the time being and US teams could take it up on a temporary basis until ties are reinstated between Mexico and Conmebol. After that maybe MLS will continue in the competition. I think USSF and MLS officials should jump into this conversation and take advantage of an unfortunate event. My condolences to the Mexican Federation and I hope they can reconcile with South America soon. This is a ridiculous turn of events that some epidemiologists I've spoken with have scoffed at.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Last Minute Man: Iniesta and his Barcelona magic

Improbable. Unrealistic. Not to be. Those were Tommy Smyth's words as time wound down for Barcelona in their crucial semifinal match with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. But champions should never be underestimated. Yes, there was no Puyol, Marquez and Henry and yes, they were down a man when they should not have been. Barca still played like they had eleven men on the pitch. Chelsea wasted their chances and when they thought it was all set and done, Iniesta throws a cold bucket of water on their dreams of reaching Rome in two weeks' time.

Last Saturday's 6-2 victory over bitter rivals Real Madrid was no fluke. Even though Essien, Alex and Terry gobbled up Messi's inventiveness and Xavi's incursions into the area, the true colors of this loaded team would show brighter than ever. The referee made 3 or 4 serious errors (hilariously enough, the man happens to be a psychologist too). These errors were quite costly for Chelsea since they could have been penalties. On the other hand, his dismissal of Abidal was completely unfounded since the Frenchman did not touch Drogba (Anelka?) and the Chelsea man took an impressive dive.

What's next? A depleted but resilient Barcelona against the all-around best team in the world--Manchester United. A tall order? Perhaps. Keep in mind that 3/4 of their starting defense will be missing due to suspension/injury: Marquez, Puyol and Abidal. For Man U, Fletcher will miss the match. Pep Guardiola is set to have a tough match against United but Sir Alex Ferguson's team tends to leave open spaces in the back. Messi and Henry thrive in those situations. In the end, this was the best possible final we could have asked for except maybe for the weakened Barca defense. Can't wait for the 27th!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

MLS 2009 Attendance stats week 7

This will be short but poignant. Previously, on week 5, I had done some analysis on weather-attendance correlations. Not much there. I thought maybe I would try the same but with relative attendance to put all stadiums in perspective under the same umbrella. Interesting things happen. With Toronto and Seattle (attendance leaders with sellout crowds) attendance has a very slight but noticeable trend to cooler games (on right). Notice I have circled the suspect attendance figures. Some include LA but I keep those for the second analysis.

So let's say we have no TFC and no Sounders. . . Trends (very slight and statistically not significant) are for warmer weather (figure on the left). I'm beginning to agree with some of the readers that the economy may be to blame. I think it's also fans of the game that are not as enthusiastic for their own teams (i.e. Dallas, Chicago, Colorado). Note that all three have their own stadium. Chicago perplexes me... they have Blanco and McBride.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Barcelona: A lesson in being number 1

Barcelona 6 - Real Madrid 2. No, it's not a typo. And yes, this line has echoed throughout Planet Football for the past 18 hours or so. And why not? Six goals from the best collection of players available. Yes, Chelsea prevented Barca from opening play and took down their offensive qualities. But the game against Real Madrid was different. The "merengues" needed a win to cut their points difference from Barcelona from 4 to 1. It was not to be.

Messi showed his quality once again and why Maradona refers to him as the only player to come close to his abilities during his prime in the 1980s. Henry showed why he's one of the world's most perfect strikers. There are no balls and no plays too difficult for him to turn into goals. If in doubt, just look at the 4th goal of the game. 10 yards or so away from the area, touches it slightly against an ill-advised advancement from Casillas and somehow his touch enters the goal.

And what about Real? Clearly not the team they were hoping to be. Robben, Sergio Ramos and Raul were insistent but their chances were outnumber by a factor of three by the "azulgrana." Robinho is sorely missed, as is (insert fake cough here) Beckham. A move for Cristiano Ronaldo next season? Either that or a move for a top playmaker and a couple of extra strikers would help as well.

Cheers, Barcelona. Stamford Bridge will be a harsh task. No Puyol and no Marquez will make things interesting. Barcelona is a better attacking team but Chelsea has order in the back line and great holding midfielders. Still, Manchester United versus Barcelona in Rome would be the ultimate clash of the titans.