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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

MLS 2011 Attendance Statistics Final Week: Part 2

Now we look at the difference between 2011 and 2010 for the whole season and every team. The difference plot shows that MLS overall gained 1142. Compared to 2009 (+2820) the number is even larger. Even with the Beckham effect in 2008 (+1175) and 2007 (+1088), 2011 still shows impressive gains. It comes down to two factors: new soccer specific stadiums and the Pacific Northwest Teams.

Seven teams gained over 1000 seats and 4 approached or surpassed the 2000 seat mark. Kansas City had specific gains due to the opening of Livestrong Sporting Park. New York, LA and Colorado made significant gains since last year. Seattle gained close to 2000 seats due to the New York game and Keller's goodbye match.

The negatives this year included Columbus (-2520 since 2010), Chicago (-1541) and Toronto (-187, although this is negligible). This may be due to the lack of important stars and results for the teams and good DP signings or homegrown stars may ameliorate the numbers in 2012.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hollywood Ending: LA wins MLS Cup 2011

Photo credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty

The Los Angeles Galaxy won the MLS Cup tonight at the right time and with the right pieces. It was Beckham and Donovan, Magee and Keane, Juninho and Dunivant, Franklin and Saunders, Gonzalez and De la Garza. The Galaxy that Bruce Arena built is based on pairs: goalkeeper and the defense, center forward and great crosses from the outside backs. And it works.

Tonight, the LA Galaxy dominated a Houston Dynamo that looked out of sorts without Brad Davis. There were no clear passes for Brian Ching and just one dangerous set piece. Moffat's insistence in attack wasn't enough for the Dynamo and Carr and Ching never looked in sync.

Bruce Arena made league history today by winning his third title. Donovan also made history by scoring the game-winning goal in a final to win his second title as a Galaxian. And it doesn't stop there: Robbie Keane set up a superb goal by Donovan and added another title to his inventory. The Irishman has been instrumental in cementing the Galaxy's run. He gave the team that much more stardom.he

The defense was also stellar tonight. Omar Gonzalez erased any Dynamo play that came his way, and with a bit of style and presence. De la Garza was a perfect partner and always showed up when the ball was played low and when Ching or Carr tried to break free. Sean Franklin showed why he merits more looks by the national team with his overlapping runs.

And then there's David Beckham. If Donovan is the soul of the Galaxy then Beckham is the heart. His passes always perfect, his positioning and awareness just as fresh at the age of 36, and his drive unsurpassed by any other player on the pitch. No one wanted this title more than Becks. And yes, although some may not want to hear it, the Beckham experiment worked.

Congratulations LA Galaxy. Clearly the class of MLS. Surely the best team in the league. A just win for a star-studded cast. This is Hollywood after all.

Landon's goal:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Rise of Uruguay in World Football

Photo credit: Getty Images

If one had presumed that Uruguay would make it to the semifinals of the 2010 World Cup, it would have been considered a long shot. They made it in by winning the half spot play-in game against Concacaf's Costa Rica, a wild card so to speak. But at the World Cup we saw the rise of Luis Suarez and the reaffirmation of Diego Forlan, Eguren, Cavani and Lugano. Only Spain could defeat them in the end--and they ended up winning the cup.

Was it an oddity? No. This past summer we saw the same team knock off host-nation Argentina and win the tournament in convincing fashion against Paraguay. Throw in the fact that they went undefeated in 2011, including an away win at Italy, and you know something special is brewing.

Uruguay has always been about passion and defense. I grew up knowing them as "rageros," a word meaning "foulers." Their style was dirty to the point of intimidation. The Uruguay of old that won two of the first four World Cups had been eroded away. Uruguay's position in South America was up for grabs and this allowed teams like Bolivia, Colombia, Chile and Ecuador to advance to the ecumenical tournament throughout the past two decades. Uruguay sometimes made it in, but just by a hair.

The pushover, ragero days for Uruguay are over. After Suarez' crucial handball stop versus Ghana in 2010, everything seemed to change. Forlan's scintilating possession, Lugano's positioning on the pitch and Luis Suarez' nose for goals are only the tip of the iceberg. They dribble around defenses with precision, score sublime goals and win games in style. Luis Suarez' awareness is so impressive that defenders double or tripple up on him, enough so that players like Dirk Kuyt and Carrol, Cavani and Forlan, have room to create dangerous plays. His game transcends seamlessly from club to country and this is the same for other players like Forlan and Lugano. That's the real key to Uruguay. The players always play well, no matter when or for whom.

It's not inconceivable to asume that Uruguay will top Conmebol's qualifying campaign. Also not inconceivable that they could remain undefeated. And, at the end of the day, it's not inconceivable that La Celeste could win the World Cup, in Rio, all over again.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

4-4-2 works: US wins at Slovenia

Photo credit: Srdjan Zivulovic/Landov

Klinsmann finally tried his luck with a familiar formation: 4-4-2. Bob Bradley's choice throughout most of his 5-year career with the US Men's National Team, 4-4-2 gave the US team more attacking options and clear penetration of the opposing defense. But Klinsmann still maintained an attacking style and went with a diamond midfield instead of the flat 4-4-2 that Bradley had used so much. It payed off: Dempsey (attacking mid), Buddle (forward 1) and Altidore (forward 2) all scored.

Besides the stylish attacking play of the front three throughout the first half and part of the second half, was the addition of Fabian Johnson to the team. The Hoffenheim midfielder added spark and creativity to the US attack. He was involved in Buddle's opening goal and Altidore's penalty-winning play. Johnson constantly broke down the Slovenian defense and showed that he could also play centrally if needed (today he was a left winger). In the absence of Donovan or Dempsey, Johnson is looking like a go-to playmaker.

When Michael Bradley started as a right midfielder it was clear that Beckerman would be the sole holding midfielder ahead of the 4-man back line. This had some uninspiring moments. Cherundolo and Chandler looked off and Goodson had trouble with the Slovenian attacks. As a good friend of mine put it: "entertaining match but the defense was terrible." Indeed.

Klinsmann's modified 4-4-2 formation was inspiring to see, fun to watch, and payed strong dividends with an away win in Europe. It comes down to when this formation can be played and how Klinsmann should revert to a 4-5-1 or a two holding-mid center. Clearly, this has not been efficient with either stronger teams (France, Belgium) or weaker ones (Honduras, Costa Rica). The goals came out of a more versatile 4-4-2 formation. It comes down to who the starting forwards should be and which player is tasked as holding midfielder.

Other questions remain: Who will go out wide with Donovan and Dempsey? Would Johnson still figure into the lineup? Does Bradley shift to the defensive midfield role? What will the healthy back line look like? All good questions, especially considering options left out like Omar Gonzales and George John. And what happens when Stuart Holden is healthy and Bedoya and Freddy Adu find form?

Player ratings:

Subs: Edu (6), Shea (5), Williams (N/A), Jones (N/A), Rogers (N/A)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

MLS 2011 Attendance Statistics Final Week: Part 1

Fact: 2011 had the highest attendance in league history
Fact: Seattle once again topped itself with the highest attendance in the league (38496) and would lie 6th in attendance figures if playing in the Premier League
Fact: Portland and Seattle sold out every single match in 2011
Fact: Compared to 2010, all but 3 teams showed positive increase in attendance
Fact: New stadiums attract more fans (KC, NY)
Fact: Seattle continues to sell out US Open Cup

Figures will be updated in the next few postings.

Here are the final numbers:

Team Average Relative Median
DC 15196 62 14849
KC 17812 96 18467
NE 13222 66 12914
CLB 12185 60 11298
TOR 20267 88 20145
CHI 14273 71 14567
NYRB 19691 78 20393
PHI 18258 99 18524
HOU 17694 66 17544
LA 23330 86 23719
CHV 14829 55 14076
DAL 12933 63 11022
SJ 11858 113 10525
CRD 14838 82 14503
RSL 17594 88 17734
SEA 38496 108 36304
POR 18827 101 18627
VAN 20412 97 20518

Friday, November 11, 2011

Same Story: US loses to France

Photo credit: AFP

New stadium, new opponent, same story. Team USA lost a friendly today versus France at the Stade de France outside Paris by the score of 0-1. Sounds familiar? It should. After an encouraging start to he Klinsmann era in a 1-1 tie versus arch-rivals Mexico, The US went to lose 0-1 versus a limited Costa Rica at home, 0-1 in Belgium, and 0-1 in New York against Ecuador. There was a win against Honduras in Miami. A bright spot in a difficult start for the new coach.

The match was fairly even today in the first 45. The US back line held up well and was basically a rock until the start of the second half. Altidore and Dempsey proved to be real headaches for France although neither could get a clear shot on the French 'keeper.

The midfield was a different story. While Beckerman showed why he's worth having as a defensive midfielder, he hardly showed why he should start over Michael Bradley (a regular for Chievo in the Italian Serie A). Danny Williams was beaten several times and did not contribute as much going forward. Brek Shea also had a hard time creating plays and was relegated to the defensive end, forcing the team to retreat further.

The addition of Jermaine Jones offered some respite for the central midfield of Klinsmann's team, but his introduction came shortly before Howard's goal was penetrated by Remy. Enter Fabian Johnson: creativity, speed, but not enough to save the day. He and DaMarcus Beasley allowed for Dempsey and Altidore to exploit open spaces. Dempsey payed for this by getting constantly fouled by the French. Altidore's attempts never quite broke through.

So where does the national team stand after this latest setback? Same place, really. They were going up against one of the best teams in the world, even if there were some new faces in Blanc's squad. This was the Stade de France of Zidane and Henry. A 0-1 loss is acceptable. But what of the 1-4-1 record? Clearly one or even two of those should have been wins. At some point, the honeymoon stage with Klinsmann has to end and he will have to start producing on the field with real results. Altidore needs company. Perhaps with Donovan and Dempsey both on the pitch things might be better. But that is likely to not occur until February or March of next year.

Player ratings:

Subs: Jonson (6), Jones (6.5), Beasley (5), Buddle (6)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Omar Gonzales and the Klinsmann snubs

Photo credit: US Soccer

The US national team will be playing against world-class France and up-and-coming Slovenia in Europe during next week's international dates. With much of MLS at a standstill due to the start of the post-season and the mandatory breaks for all clubs world wide, this could be a great occasion to shake things up a bit more with the national side. Klinsmann says yes and no.

Yes, says Klinsmann, because Fabian Johnson will have the chance to play for the USA and because Alfredo Morales (Hertha Berlin) gets his first shot. Klinsmann's German connection continues with Timmy Chandler, Daniel Williams and Jermaine Jones all on the roster and all with equal chances at playing in the friendlies.

Klinsmann also continues with his "Latin" connection. If you count Morales, that would be one. Out of his predilection for Mexican Primera folks only Michael Orozco Fiscal is left. Edgar Castillo has clearly seen his stock whither after less-than-average performances. Jose Francisco Torres saw his season end due to injury and will not return to the fold until 2012. Klinsmann asserts that he wants a possession-oriented, Latin-influenced squad. It sure seems more German-influenced to most fans and soccer media alike.

Klinsmann also prefers not to shake up the core of the national team. Okay, a good philosophy. But consider that Omar Gonzalez is the top domestic-based defender in the US pool and that a close second is George John. Neither has been invited by Klinsmann. Gonzalez had his shot with Bradley and it didn't pan out. Klinsmann chose struggling Ream over him several times already. A head-scratcher for sure. This is particularly interesting since George John is being courted by more than one English Premier League team.

One thing is abundantly clear. This is Klinsmann's team and no one will pick his men for him. No matter how much Gonzalez, John, and Herculez Gomez may yell, it still boils down to Klinsmann's plans. Never mind that Gomez (latin connection?) is literaly "tearing it up" in the Mexican league with multiple goals for Tecos this season. But we have yet to see the final product: the dominant possession-based team that gets results. Klinsmann is 1-3-1 so far and the fans are getting restless.