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Sunday, April 29, 2012

MLS Attendance Statistics 2012 Week 8

An update on DC United's attendance: the actual "soccer" capacity of RFK for this season is 19467 and not 24500 (as it was previously). This changes DCU's standings in the relative category significantly and puts their current average relative at 71%. Their average numbers are still well below what it used to be for the perennial champions of the 1990s and early 2000s. That number is currently 13751. In 2007, the average was 20967. New England and Columbus are also well below the numbers in previous years. 

As a corollary to a previous post (week 5), the relative versus average attendance for the Eastern conference is provided above. Philadelphia and KC both have similar stadium capacities and are both selling out their home games. More interesting, perhaps, is the New York Red Bulls at 17426 average attendance but only 69% full. Bigger stadium but relatively weaker attendance than Toronto, for example. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Torres, golden and Chelsea defeat Barcelona

 Photo credit: AP

There are few matches that leaves a person saying "wow" over and over again. And yet that's how many of us felt today as Fernando Torres sidestepped Victor Valdez and gingerly guided the ball to the back of the net to tie the score Chelsea 2 - Barcelona 2. Having won the home match by 1-0, Chelsea sent the reigning champs packing and sealed their trip to the UEFA Champions League final.

Barcelona is the epitome of the beautiful game: tiki taka from Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, steady defense in Puyol and Pique, searing runs by Dani Alves. And yet even the best, most talented teams can be undone by true teamwork and total football. Today's version of total football came in the shape of total defense. Brian McBride put it well when he said that rarely does one see two forwards playing left and right backs. And Drogba, Kalou, and Torres performed this labor splendidly. Di Mateo held the team in line for a perfect defensive second half despite being a man down.

John Terry's character mistakes, and we won't put that lightly, nearly cost the team this game. It's not the first time his actions have pained the team and perhaps the "blues" were able to look past it and regroup on the field. True, if Ramires had not struck the first goal for Chelsea, we would be praising Messi and company, but it's the undeniable determination of the Chelsea defense and a scintillating performance by Petr Cech that brought it home for the London team.

This was a tale of two talented forwards: Messi and Torres. Messi has the privilege and the stigma of being the best player in the world. He thought his high, controlled penalty kick would beat Cech but the woodwork had other ideas. Same thing happened later in the match when a low shot from the Argentinean was negated by both Cech and the left post.

Then there is Fernando Torres. The 50 million pound attacker has seen lower goal production than most goalies get in recent times. But today he showed the composure necessary to ice the game and rise to fame once more. All is forgiven when a player scores a clinching goal like this. And he also played phenomenal defense when he had to, so we must argue that he showed his worth as a complete player today.

The most credit goes to Meireles, Ramires, Ianovic, Mikkel, Bosingwa, Cole, for sealing the 18 yard box with barbed wires and holding a perfect line. This is how the game was won, in the back with the most solid teamwork defense that club soccer has seen in recent years. This is how Italy won World Cups, how Greece won the Euro, how the United States got to the 2009 Confederations Cup final. Lead from the back, always, to ensure a game. A perfect ten in the second half for this defense of ten men on the pitch.

Friday, April 20, 2012

MLS Attendance Statistics 2012 Week 6

The major markets in New York, LA and DC are all showing slightly negative trends compared to the average for last year. It is, however, just the start of the season. And maybe it has to do with how the team is performing? Perhaps for LA that is the case. Indeed, the reigning champs have won only twice this season. Worth considering also is their cross-town rivals, Chivas USA. They were trailing the lot in relative attendance terms and we were getting a bit worried with the low numbers. However, these numbers have been amended to reflect the true capacity at the Home Depot Center for Chivas: 18800.

Another city with a marked change from last year, and indeed past seasons, is Toronto FC. The first MLS Canadian team has yet to win this season, with their sole victory coming in LA in Champions League play. Their numbers are down sharply by over 1,000 seats. In relative terms they are at 83%, a far cry from the sold-out BMO Field of a couple of years ago. Aaron Winter will need to work something quick to get this team back in shape ahead of the Canadian Championship battle for a Champions League berth. 

The numbers:

Team Average Relative Median
DC 13817 56 14410
KC 18671 101 19600
NE 11657 58 11657
CLB 14857 73 14857
TOR 19163 83 18944
CHI 14282 71 14282
NYRB 17184 68 17114
PHI 18470 100 18526

MON 41016 202 41016
LA 22233 82 21734
CHV 11853 63 13372
DAL 15072 74 14184
SJ 14289 136 10525
COL 13954 77 13954
RSL 18554 93 18531
SEA 38419 100 38332
POR 20438 100 20438
VAN 18592 89 19394

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Coloring the German national soccer team

Photo credit: FIFA

As I watched Bayern Munich earn a deserved, last-gasp winner over Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinal, one thing dawned on me: the diversity of German football is incredible. Interestingly enough, both Real Madrid and Bayern Munich had their fair share of the starting eleven for Joachim Low: Khedira, Ozil, Boateng, Muller, Kroos, and Gomez, to name a few. Even there, in those names, we can see the diversity: African, Spanish, Turkish, and of course German.

I grew up in the days of Franz Beckembauer as coach, Juergen Klinsmann, Thomas Hassler, Lothar Mathaus and Andreas Brehme on the pitch. Those were German names and their style, athleticism and resolve was purely Germanic, so to speak. A beautiful mix of strength and preciseness that is still present in the Bundesliga. 

Things began to change in 2001 when Gerald Asamoah was introduced to the world as the first black, African-born player to ever suit up for the German national team, as Erwin Kostedde and Jimmy Hartwig, two previous internationals, had one black and one white parent. In 2002 and 2006 we were also introduced to two Polish-German players: Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski, respectively. A newer, faster mode was thus installed on a German style that would see even more flux within the 2006-2010 World Cup cycle.

By the time the 2010 World Cup in South Africa started, Germany had been rejuvenated and reinvigorated by Joachim Low, following Klinsmann's departure. Some of the more impressive players were Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil, both not German-sounding names. It just so happens that Germany has a sizable Turkish community in its territory and now the new generation of players is beginning to add more color to the German flag. Ozil, described as Germany's "Zidane," has exploded onto the world scene and, at 23, has only just begun his career.

There is another breed of German player these days, with Mario Gomez as a perfect example. A German parent and a foreign parent. For Mario, his father is from Grenada and his mother from Germany, making him eligible for both countries. He eventually chose Germany over Spain. On that note, there are certain players Americans are familiar with: Jermaine Jones, Daniel Williams, Terrence Boyd, Fabian Johnson. The "German" connection has served the American team well, but these players had the choice of country to play for. Indeed, Jermaine Jones once played for the full national team but was never fully a candidate behind a deep midfield. Fabian Johnson also played for the youth German levels and exercised his option to switch nationalities.

The new Germany is more like the rest of the world, a slew of colors interwoven and unraveled, tall and athletic, slim and fast, black and white and every color in between. For a country with the burden of unfounded hatred, the colors of this German team serve as a piece of redemption for such a beautifully complex society.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

MLS Attendance Statistics 2012 Week 5

Week 5 has seen further normalization of the attendance figures for most teams. Thanks to the opening at Montreal, however, the average attendance in 2012 is higher than 2011's by close to 2000. The Red Bulls have slipped further in attendance figures and are now at -2411 relative to 2011 due to smaller number of fans in the last two games. This despite the resurgent Henry and his partner Kenny Cooper, who are obliterating opposition left and right after the team started the season at 0-2.

There is a lot about the MLS statistics on this page that deals with "relative" attendance. That is, the total number divided by the stadium capacity. I always find it more instructive by looking at the whole picture. Century Link Field typically holds twice the available seats at Colorado's Dick's Sporting Goods Park. This doesn't, however, mean that the Rapids' stadium isn't full at 18,000. 

To better illustrate the concept of relative attendance for new visitors to the website, I would like to show the average attendance vs relative for the Western Conference. Notice that both Seattle and Portland sell out their games and are therefore at 100%, but their average attendance differs by about 18,000 seats. A team like Chivas plays at the Home Depot Center with a capacity of 27,000. Their low attendance numbers, coupled with low relative attendance relegates the squad to the lower left quadrant of the plot. However, this relative figure may need to be revised since it looks like the Goats have lowered their expected attendance figures, as can be seen by the large plastic Chivas mats covering seats on the end stands.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Manchester City and Balotelli fall

Photo credit: Getty Images

Manchester City's chances to claim the League title may have vanished today in their 0-1 loss to Arsenal. Manchester United stand a full 8 points away from the "Citizens" and are likely to lift the trophy once again. To make matters worse, Mario Balotelli won't even be there to help his team in case the mathematics hold up and United has a bad run of form. And this may be the Achilles heel of Manchester City: over-reliance on megastars with egos to match.

As much as we'd like to acknowledge Roberto Mancini's puppeteering, it is clear that this team's concentration and decision-making comes down to who is willing to play as a team. Tevez sure felt he deserved more early in the season and was handed a near-season-long banishment from the pitch by Mancini. The Argentinean refused to be used as a substitute in a game when called by Mancini. Why? So many stars vying for the forward role: Dzeko, Aguero, Balotelli, Tevez. And yes, he should always go first, right?

United has their share of talented forwards that are all pretty content. You can argue that Rooney isn't the most obedient of persons but Sir Alex Ferguson has managed to tame the Englishman to a point that he follows his coach's directions well. Chicharito, Welbeck and Berbatov enjoy their rotation and are aware their services are better suited for certain games.

Then there is Balotelli. The Ghanaian-Italian has a history of misconduct and is regarded as a brilliant, although temperamental player with unpredictability to match his ego. When he's on there are few that can stop him. When he's off or his team is losing, he forgets how important and talented he is and pretends to be playing street soccer or video games. Yes, in a video game you can take out your frustration by tackling an opponent for no reason. In real life there are consequences: his deliberate tackle resulted in a silly second yellow card that, because of previous offenses, means that he's suspended for 5 games.

Sport has a history of "bad boys" and it ranges from the NFL's Ochocinco to Ecuador's Kaviedes. Never quite patient enough to understand their talent and how valuable they are to the sport. Balotelli and Tevez both cost Manchester City many points this season and for this reason above all are likely to miss an opportunity to win a title for the first time in over 40 years. A steady hand is required for guiding players like Mario and it is clear that Mancini has been unable to do this. Can anyone do it? Will Mancini return next season? Will Balotelli? We shall know part of the answer to these questions within the next few weeks.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

MLS Attendance Statistics 2012 Week 4

Week 4 and a few changes and trends begin to appear. First and perhaps most importantly are the two biggest markets in MLS: LA and New York. The Red Bulls remain south of last year's 19,691 average despite this being the first few weeks of the season with less distractions from football or baseball. The New Jersey base for New York may have been necessary from a logistics point of view but would it have been better to put Red Bull Arena elsewhere? Would a second New York team make a difference? We hope so, especially if a good location for a stadium is secured.

For LA its two teams have vastly different situations. Chivas is ailing at the moment both on the soccer pitch and the stands. Its relative attendance is less than 50% and averages 11,853, a figure just over the capacity for San Jose's team. The Galaxy has bigger attendance margins due to its superstar trio but have only sold out their opening match versus RSL and sit at over 80% capacity averaged over the first three games.

The numbers:
Team Average Relative Median
DC 14742 60 14742
KC 17469 95 17469
NE 12925 65 12925
CLB 18197 89 18197
TOR 19507 85 19507
CHI 18075 90 18075
NYRB 17220 68 17220
PHI 18443 100 18443

MON 58912 290 58912
LA 22263 82 21324
CHV 11853 44 13372
DAL 16555 81 16555
SJ 16171 154 16171
CRD 13954 77 13954
RSL 18577 93 18577
SEA 38438 100 38304
POR 20438 100 20438
VAN 20197 96 20197

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Manchester United still on top in 2012

A few months ago it looked as if Manchester United's monopoly on the Premier League title was about to be undone by its fiercest rival: Manchester City. The Citizens weren't losing and were beating everyone by exaggerated scores, including United by 6-1 at Old Trafford. As the season progressed, however, and both teams exited prematurely from both the Champions League and the Europa League, the true colors began to shine. And this time it was United's resilience and their eternal guardian--Alex Ferguson--that allowed them to reclaim the lead in the world's toughest league.

Recent results show why Manchester United is such a good team from top to bottom. Never mind the piles of money thrown at Aguero, Balotelli, Silva, Dzeko, Milner, Lescott, etc. In the end it comes down to more humble personnel like Antonio Valencia, Chicharito Hernandez and Ashley Young. And yes, it's the coaching and game time decisions that make a difference. Yesterday, Valencia and Young won United 3 precious points away from home, taking them 4 points clear of City.

When one watches Manchester United play, the talent present on the pitch carries out like an orchestra of well-timed passes, high defensive lines, great crosses from the wings and the accuracy of Rooney, Hernandez and Welbeck. Manchester City is fun to watch also but one gets the sense of too many egos trying to mesh together. Sometimes it works for Mancini and sometimes it doesn't, as can be seen with the recent results: losses to Swansea City and Sporting Lisbon and ties versus Stoke City and Sunderland (at home).

Sir Alex Ferguson isn't afraid to shake up his lineup given a particular foe on the pitch, nor is he timid about sitting out one or two stars if he sees they aren't the right choice for a game. Chicharito, for example, did not start versus Fulham but did versus Blackburn Rovers. For Ryan Giggs it was the opposite. Lean, faster teams like Fulham require the steadiness of Carrick and Giggs in the middle of the pitch. Phil Jones and Paul Scholes work better versus a more physical side like the Rovers. It's coaching, in the end, that makes the difference. It is player selection for specific purposes and at the right time. This is why Hernandez, Valencia, Welbeck were brought in through key transfers and steady player development.

Manchester City will need to do more than win its remaining games not just against modest teams like QPR but also against stiffer competition from Arsenal and Newcastle. The "Citizens" must also hope that Manchester United stumbles along the way, and this will not come easy since the toughest opponent for the "Red Devils" will be Manchester City itself. And indeed, this will be the climax itself if City is able to defeat Arsenal and Newcastle to be within striking range of United. The date is April 30th, three fixtures away from the end of the season. Mark your calendars now.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

No Gonzalez and no Donovan means no Galaxy

Photo credit: MLS

A star -studded LA Galaxy won the MLS Cup in 2011. With many of its main pieces returning (Juninho, Beckham, Donovan, Franklin, Keane, Gonzalez), most thought they would be unbeatable once again. A key injury to Gonzalez, however, has shown this team can be overcome once again. Would Toronto have knocked the Galaxy out of the Champions League if Gonzalez was defending? Would they have lost at home to Real Salt Lake and New England Revolution? Tough questions but worth asking.

There is another integral piece to the Galaxy attack: Landon Donovan. Tonight, as the unseasonable drenching rain enveloped the Home Depot Center, the Galaxy lacked the offensive arguments to come back from 3-0 against a rebuilt Revolution. Cardozo hasn't been the answer when called upon and Mike Magee came in as a substitute due to his own injuries. What will happen to the Galaxy once there is no Beckham and Donovan? Even without Beckham or Keane things worked fine with this team. The addition of Buddle has had a few kinks so far but he has been able to score.

In the end, the reason for the Galaxy's defensive woes lie with the absence of Gonzalez. De La Garza is not fit to be a center back without his sizable partner and Arena has made it known the former Maryland player will likely be moved to the wing. Reviewing the different goals scored on the Galaxy it is clear to see that Gonzalez's aerial strength and awareness could have made a difference. The Revolution's Sene's goal, for example, was a vintage Gonzalez defensive moment. Such a free header is hard to come by when the corpulent defender is on the pitch. Another missing piece is the ability of Gonzalez to score off headers in set pieces. He and Beckham made quite a tandem on several scoring situations in the past.

With Leonardo a couple of weeks away due to injury, Bruce Arena's options in the middle of the defense continue to be thin. Perhaps a trade might need to occur before the end of the market window in MLS. As for the absence of Donovan things are even more interesting: no spark, speed or fantasy.