Archive for the ‘The Story So Far’ Category

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Vancouver Whitecaps

Deadspin has been a-trolling lately, mostly on Major League Soccer following Billy Haisley’s snarkfest last week. As they’ve often demonstrated with their near-fanatical hatred of all things ESPN, Deadspin tends to speak as one editorial voice about anything Deadspin has once declared it doesn’t like.

And so they’ve followed up their work with a post countering an ESPN poll which claimed MLS “equals MLB in popularity with kids” in the United States of A.

Here’s the original claim:

The ESPN Sports Poll Annual Report, which is managed by Luker on Trends, interviews 1,500 Americans per month and tracks interest in 31 different sports. In 2012, the poll determined soccer was America’s second-most popular sport for those aged 12-24, ahead of NBA, MLB and college football. Respondents are asked to rank their affinity for sports (how avid a fan they are), athletes, sponsorships and other trends.

The NFL led the poll with 39 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds saying they are avid fans. The NBA, NCAA football and NCAA basketball were all over 23 percent. The current poll was released on the eve of MLS’s 19th season.

This doesn’t seem too controversial a methodology to me. You take a survey, you rank the sports you like the most. I don’t see a lot of sleight of hand here, though this is NOT the same thing as a full published methodology.

Anyhoo, Tim Marchman smelled the BS and wrote this:

According to, there are around 25 million children aged 12 to 17 in the United States. This would mean that, per the poll’s findings, there are about 4.5 million American teenagers who are avid MLS fans.

In 2013, just more than 6 million spectators in total attended MLS games. Average viewership for games on ESPN—presumably the most-watched—was around 220,000, and total viewership for the MLS Cup Final on English- and Spanish-language broadcasts was around 1 million.

In other words, finger math would suggest that a majority of these alleged avid teenage MLS fans aren’t actually watching or attending MLS games. And in fact that’s true. According to Rich Luker of Luker on Trends, “Avid MLS fans between the ages of 12 and 17 are not watching much MLS on TV.”

Well, okay. Except it’s possible to be an avid fan and not be within traveling distance of a stadium, or able to afford season tickets. It’s also possible to be an avid fan and watch online via the live streaming service MLS Live (though I doubt their viewing numbers would come close to making the difference), or be an avid fan and follow stories online and stick to highlights. Lord knows even self-described “avid” baseball fans don’t watch 162 games a year, and if they say they do, they’re giant lying bags of garbage.

People absorb sports in any number of ways. Fantasy leagues. Panini stickers. Watching highlights. Reading blogs.

This isn’t to defend Luker’s lack of transparency, which leaves him prone to this kind of criticism. But I think Marchman was perhaps a little hasty in dismissing it altogether. The American kids, they like the soccer, maybe?

Cardiff City v Norwich City - Barclays Premier League

Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan had this to say about his former Cardiff City manager Malky Mackay:

“He didn’t do very well at Watford but somehow our CEO and our chairman hired him and replaced Dave Jones,” Tan said. “Dave Jones actually did much better.

“So I think Malky got lucky when he came to Cardiff. I invested a lot of money and then we went up. Do you think that Malky would have got us promoted without my investment?”

Now this is obviously being presented in such a way as to further discredit Tan’s tenure at Cardiff which has been pretty unstable. But I wonder if he’s wrong on this? I can’t speak to Cardiff’s promotion, but I can to Mackay’s experience in the Premier League. Let’s look back to late November, about a month before Mackay was sacked. Cardiff were in a not too undesirable 15th place. But what were the underlying numbers?

Well their Total Shots Ratio was the second worst in the league, but their PDO (save plus shot percentage), the metric that regresses quickly to the mean, was the third highest. Now, there’s a lot more analysis you can do here, but on the whole, Cardiff were scoring and saving shots at an unsustainable rate, with a shot dominance that put them in the relegation zone. So they were, on the face of it, lucky. We could do a much more thorough analysis though taking into consideration game states and ExpG. But at first glance, Mackay enjoyed some good fortune.

So what of right now? Well, Cardiff City are still second last in the league in TSR. But now their PDO has dropped to roughly 920, so they’re somehow performing below even their own very low standard. So while Tan is right to some degree, their current manager in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hasn’t exactly improved things significantly since his arrival. So he shouldn’t sing his own praises just yet.

Leicester City v Ipswich Town - Sky Bet Football League Championship

There is a legal challenge afoot to Financial Fair Play in the Football League, particularly those clubs in the Championship for whom debt spending is about the only way they’ve come up with in order to put together a winning team. David Conn has the gist in a must-read article on the development. Here’s an excerpt:

Some of those owners have been bankrolling huge losses to amass a squad capable of winning promotion, notably Leicester, top of the Championship, who are believed by Championship sources to have instructed the solicitors, Brabners, to make the legal threat to the financial fair play rules. The Manchester-based solicitors have written to the league’s chief executive, Shaun Harvey, objecting over six pages to the FFP rules, arguing they suffer from not being the same as those of the Premier League, will prevent clubs competing, restrict investment by owners and reduce players’ wages – which is in fact one of its principal aims.

The irony of this is that more and more, significant outside investment is necessary for clubs competing their way to promotion, if only to help secure debts recklessly accrued by former owners. In other words, many clubs have been so financially damaged by the hubris of their forebears they need a giant chunk of change to even begin crawling back into the light.

As for the owners filing this suit, club supporters should be wary of investors for whom player wage inflation is not an issue. If this is their attitude to the business model of the club, chances are there is not a problem in the world for them that cannot be solved by throwing money at it, and that includes vastly overpriced players.

Club investment is indeed crucial for promotion, as we saw with the Southampton model. Yet part of that must involve better, more intelligent use of resources in finding talent at the low ebb of value. Why should other, more responsible clubs trying to work their way to sustainability suffer for other clubs’ poor business acumen?

Manchester City v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Second Round First Leg

Part of the problem of reducing entire teams to Big Tactical Ideas is that it builds false expectations of what will happen when they meet. Before last night the talk was of Man City finally breaking into the European elite in facing Barcelona at home, two giants of possession-based, high scoring football meeting head-to-head after years of unbalance.

And yet ten minutes in last night, the illusion there is a single, homogeneous style in build-up play in Europe was undone by the clear juxtaposition of the lanky giants in Blue taking on the upright, two-touch-and-go efficiency of the boys in red and purple (what are Barca’s colours, exactly?). One of these teams was not like the other. One of them didn’t belong.

Pellegrini’s post match stand up routine involving Sweden’s long love affair with Barcelona was him effectively taking one for the team in a game that could (and maybe should) have ended 3 or 4 nil Barca. City set up a disciplined camp in their own end, only to use the flanks on occasion to gain leverage against Tata Martino’s team that didn’t look too unlike Guardiola’s team.

This should be a warning for those waltzing into tonight’s game at the Emirates thinking yet again they’ll be watching two giants of possession-based, high scoring football meeting head-to-head. Wenger has already removed any doubt  tonight when Arsenal meets Bayern. There are more footballing styles than are dreamt of in your reductive, paint-by-numbers philosophy.

Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur - Barclays U21 Premier League Final

So there are plans afoot in the Premier League. Richard Scudamore has confirmed plans for a Premier League ‘B’ league. Here’s Sky Sports:

Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore has confirmed that there are plans for a ‘B’ league to come into existence.

The new league would replace the current Under-21 league format, and would be for Under-23 players with four over age players allowed.

The league would involve the same teams that are in the Under-21 league – which is those who are classed as category one in the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP).

That would mean that current Premier League sides Arsenal, Aston Villa, Chelsea, Everton, Fulham, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Newcastle, Norwich, Southampton, Stoke, Sunderland, Tottenham, West Brom and West Ham would be involved along with Football League clubs Bolton, Blackburn, Leicester, Middlesbrough, Reading and Wolves.

So here’s why this is a big deal. It’s Scudamore’s way of establishing a system more similar to the Spanish cantera, in which Spanish B teams can compete in the Segunda Division (or below). Think of it as a cantera system by other means. By raising the age and including up to four players over the age, it should ostensibly provide a more realistic and competitive league by which first team coaches and managers can evaluate young players to potentially include in the first team. There are also plans apparently to broadcast these games, further giving these players exposure they would not have otherwise received.

The one obvious drawback is that unlike the Spanish system, teams won’t be playing against sides actually competing for promotion. But it’s clear that option wouldn’t have been possible for Scudamore and the Premier League as it would have been perceived as devaluing the rather old and rather venerable Football League.

Frankly this about as close as we’re going to get. But anything to allow teams to develop their stars rather than constantly rely on buckets of TV money each and every transfer window to buy them is a good thing. Development isn’t as much about creating talent as it is about exposure in a situation as close to first team, top flight football as possible. This is a step in that direction.

Chelsea v Manchester United - Barclays Premier League

What games should I watch this weekend?

On Saturday in the Premier League you’d be a total dumb-dumb to miss Liverpool vs Arsenal at 7:45 AM EST. Of the 10:00 AM kick offs I would take Chelsea vs Newcastle. The 12:30 PM is the Welsh derby, Swansea vs Cardiff.

In the Bundesliga, Wolfsburg vs Mainz 05 at 9:30 AM is vaguely important. Serie A has Napoli vs Milan at 2:45 PM, and in La Liga, Real Madrid vs Villareal at 2:00 PM should be okay.

Moving on to Sunday, Spurs vs Everton is where it’s at, 8:30 AM! Ligue 1 has the Super Sunday battle of the rich, Monaco vs PSG at 3:00 PM. A win by Monaco could put some pressure on Laurent Blanc’s side and cut the lead in top spot to 2 points. Serie A has the scary Rome derby, Lazio vs Roma at 9:00 AM. Finally La Liga has Sevilla hosting Barcelona at 3:00 PM. A lot of football you guys. A lot of football…

What’s the big story?

Nemanja Vidic is leaving Manchester United after eight years with the club (to the old among us…was it really that long? I mean my god). He is also apparently refusing to engage in contract negotiations to extend his stay. His statement:

‘My time at this great club will always rank as the best years of my career. I never could have imagined winning 15 trophies and I will certainly never forget that fantastic night in Moscow, memories that will live with me and the fans forever.

‘However, I have decided that I will move on at the end of this season. I want to challenge myself again and try to make the best of myself in the coming years.

‘I’m not considering staying in England as the only club I ever wanted to play for here is Manchester United and I was lucky enough to be part of this Club for so many years.

I’ve got a few options to move on and I will choose the right one for me and for my family.

‘I am now going to focus all my efforts on playing for Manchester United and do the best I can for the team until the end of the season.

I hope this stops any further speculation about my future.’

The obvious point here is that Moyes is losing his best and brightest players, though it’s not as if some were questioning the utility of keeping the Serb defender at the club any longer. Natter natter natter…

Any other news?

The referee who gave Cristiano Ronaldo a red card last weekend to some controversy has been suspended for one month and cannot ref a Real Madrid game again.

Frank de Boer speculates over a move to Spurs or Liverpool one day, which means nothing.

FA considers rescinding its decision to give Andy Carroll a three match ban following highly dubious red card.

Any fun stuff?

Why Pirlo and Lichtsteiner have a symbiotic relationship at Juventus:

Any good reads?

Rafa Benitez on good practice in the January transfer window.

Real Madrid's players celebrate own goal by Atletico Madrid's Joao, during their Spanish King's Cup semi-final first leg soccer match at Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid

Any games on today?

Copa Lib! Yeah! Take your pick. I’ll go for Guarani vs Universidad Chile at 5:30 PM EST, because why not? There’s also some Eredivisie at 2:45 PM EST, Ajax vs Groningen.

What’s the big story?

Not really one to pick from, so why not watch this rather unfortunate Real Sociedad own-goal, which saw Barcelona secure their 2-0 win in the Copa del Rey semi?

Any other news?

Reports of Marcelo receiving racial abuse in Real Madrid’s 3-0 victory over Atleti in the Copa del Rey.

Beckham says “top players” are keen to join his as-yet unnamed team with as yet un-built stadium in Miami.

West Ham threaten the FA with legal action over three-match ban for Andy Carroll’s red card against Swansea’s Chico Flores.

Player loan scheme isn’t limited to Chelsea.

Any fun stuff?

Jese nets Real Madrid’s second goal against Atletico in the Copa del Rey:

Any good reads?

Michael Cox with a very insightful article on the importance of speed in the modern game, in relation to Chelsea’s win on Monday over Man City.