Friday, November 12, 2010

A Couple Big DP Rumors

As we near the MLS off season, you start to hear about what different teams are looking to do to improve their squads for next season.

We already know that New England is looking at signing a Designated Player or two and that Juan Pablo Angel is going to be available.  Now there are reports that both Houston Dynamo and Los Angeles Galaxy are looking at a couple potential acquisitions. And there are still questions about the futures of Guillermo Barros Schelotto (retirement?) and Omar Cummings (Europe?) among others.

The first rumor is one that we've seen many times before involving Ronaldinho going to LA, with NBC Sports being the latest outlet to touch on it. According to Gazzetta Dello Sport the Galaxy are ready to throw nearly $10m per year at the AC Milan player.

A player like Ronaldinho, who has a history of not taking training seriously, is a HUGE risk and to actually drop this kind of money on him would be a terrible decision for the team. However, it could be great for the league. He's super well known, but not because of personality over performance like Beckham or even Henry at this point. Instead, he's actually famous strictly for his skill on the ball and beautiful play. That's the kind of thing that will get people to tune in to a game or two just to check him out, and maybe grow the fan base a little more.

Rumor numero dos comes from the Houston Chronicle via MLS Insider. The Dynamo are probably a little gun shy to go signing another Designated Player after the disaster that was Luis Angel Landin, but if these reports are correct then they're trying for another young Mexican international; Giovani Dos Santos.

Giovani would bring a creative attacking force to a Dynamo squad. Now, you may wonder why a team that scored 40 goals last season, tied for fifth in the league, would look for more offense rather than shoring up a defense that allowed a league-worst 49 goals. I would wonder that too. On the bright side though, a player of Giovani's abilities (and heritage) would certainly help bring more fans to a stadium that already packed in 17,000 per game. Plus, it would give US national team fans a #1 team to hate.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

US Roster for Nov. 17th Out

That dude you see is Teal Bunbury. In that picture he's pissing off a bunch of Columbus Crew fans because he just dropped the first goal of his professional career. In this post, he's pissing off the entire country of Canada because he just bailed on them to come play for America.

According to a post on Soccer by Ives earlier today, Bunbury (20) is one of six players called to the match next week who are in line to earn their first ever senior cap for the United States. The rest of the youth invasion includes Dominic Cervi (24), Tim Ream (23), Gale Agbossoumonde (18), Mikkel Diskerud (20), and Juan Agudelo (17).

The full squad, as reported by Ives

Brad Guzan (Aston Villa - 18 caps)
Dom Cervi (Celtic - 0 caps)

Clarence Goodson (Brøndby IF - 16 caps - 2 goals)
Jonathan Spector (West Ham United - 27 caps)
Jonathan Bornstein (Tigres de la UANL - 35 caps - 2 goals)
Eric Lichaj (Aston Villa - 1 cap)
Nat Borchers (Real Salt Lake - 2 caps)
Tim Ream (New York Red Bulls - 0 caps)
Gale Agbossoumonde (Sporting Braga - 0 caps)

Alejandro Bedoya (Örebro - 5 caps)
Eddie Gaven (Columbus Crew - 7 caps)
Brian Carroll (Columbus Crew - 7 caps)
Logan Pause (Chicago Fire - 5 caps)
Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew - 12 caps - 1 goal)
Mikkel Diskerud (Stabæk - 0 caps)

Robbie Findley (Real Salt Lake - 10 caps)
Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls - 0 caps)
Teal Bunbury (Kansas City Wizards - 0 caps)

That's 145 caps and 5 goals spread across 18 players. 78 of those caps and 4 of those goals are from just 3 players too. For comparisons sake, Cobi Jones, the most capped player in USMNT history, has 164 caps. That's how you start a youth movement!

The two guys I'm most excited to see are Gale Agbossoumonde (who will henceforth be known simply as 'Boss') and Juan Agudelo. Boss is a 6'2" monster of muscle who played like a man among boys during the Milk Cup in July. He's played 16 games with the US U-20's and has probably made at least one opponent cry during each of those matches.

Agudelo looked like the best player on a Red Bulls team featuring million-dollar-men Juan Pablo Angel, Rafa Marquez and Thierry Henry during their first round playoff loss to San Jose. He has 23 caps with various US youth teams, during which time he tallied 15 goals. That's the kind of strike rate that gets a young kid called in, especially when all of the other forward options haven't been performing lately.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Elo Ratings Are A Pretty Good Predictor

One of the blogs I love (and link to on the sidebar) is Climbing the Ladder because all he ever does is look at random statistics that 99% of soccer fans wouldn't care about.

His latest post was about trying to predict what lead to success in the home-and-home playoff series that have existed since 2003. Here were the results
Note: I adjusted percentages to not count ties

Fewer games (18-7-7 72.0%)
Goal difference (21-11-0 65.6%)
Less experienced coach (19-12-1 61.3%)
Top goalscorer (17-11-4 60.7%)
Momentum (19-13-0 59.4%)
Higher seed (19-13-0 59.4%)
Goals for (18-13-1 58.1%)
Home record (18-14-0 56.3%)
Older team (18-14-0 56.3%)
Goals against (16-13-3 55.2%)
Won season series (12-10-10 54.5%)
Away record (17-15-0 53.1%)
Younger coach (17-15-0 53.1%)
2 year record (16-16-0 50.0%)
3 year record (14-18-0 43.8%)
Coach w/ better all time record (13-19-0 40.6%)

This is obviously super interesting to me, so I ask him for the data because I'd like to look at how the Elo Ratings do. He's a badass so he replies and it turns out Elo prediction went 21-11, matching goal differential at 65.6% success.

Below are the results of each series with the Elo difference and games-played difference for the winner of each series (winner is on the left):

2007 HOU vs DAL (92.41) (+2)
2006 HOU vs CHV (56.99) (+2)
2008 CLB vs KC (56.84) (-1)
2006 DC vs NY (53.85) (+1)
2003 CHI vs DC (53.84) (0)
2005 NE vs NY (43.24) (0)
2009 CHI vs NE (42.04) (+1)
2007 NE vs NY (40.12) (+3)
2008 CHI vs NE (34.88) (-7)
2003 NE vs NY (34.07) (-1)
2010 LA vs SEA (27.33) (-8)
2006 NE vs CHI (23.31) (0)
2003 SJ vs LA (20.61) (-4)
2003 KC vs COL (16.81) (-1)
2004 LA vs COL (12.96) (0)
2005 COL vs DAL (12.82) (-4)
2009 LA vs CHV (12.48) (-3)
2004 DC vs NY (12.30) (0)
2010 COL vs CLB (8.94) (-10)
2009 HOU vs SEA (8.71) (+5)
2004 KC vs SJ (4.91) (-1)
2008 RSL vs CHV (-30.67) (-4)
2010 DAL vs RSL (-39.07) (-7)
2010 SJ vs NY (-41.22) (-3)
2006 COL vs DAL (-51.11) (0)
2004 NE vs CLB (-61.74) (-1)
2009 RSL vs CLB (-68.02) (-6)
2007 KC vs CHV (-70.75) (0)
2007 CHI vs DC (-77.37) (-10)
2005 CHI vs DC (-81.97) (-4)
2005 LA vs SJ (-99.84) (+2)
2008 NY vs HOU (-105.34) (-14)

The really cool thing to me is that only once in 11 series (2005 LA) did a team with more games played and a lower Elo rating win the series.

So does this mean anything? Well, it's not quite statistically significant (although the fewer games one is pretty damn close to 95% confidence and is over 90% confidence) but I think that some of the results would be trends worth paying attention to next season if you happen to find yourself in a position to wager a little money.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

LA 2 - 1 Seattle: Where Did This Galaxy Team Go?

After the first game of this series I gave the credit to Bruce Arena for his great coaching. That may have been selling the players short, because the whole Galaxy team has played beautiful soccer these past two games.

I wondered if Sigi Schmid would be able to draw up a new plan for his Sounders team to give them a chance at this series, but it just wasn't meant to be. The Galaxy dominated the run of play again, stifling Seattle's attack and scoring two goals off of great set piece deliveries by David Beckham (who seems to be happier than he has been at any other time in his MLS career).

Dare I say that this team looks very similar to the one that began the 2010 MLS season. In the beginning of the year, LA Galaxy appeared to be positioning themselves as a Real Madrid/ManU style team that clearly outclassed their league competition. They put up 32 points in the first 12 games with 22 goals for and 3 goals against.

That run slowed though. In their next 11 games LA only managed 12 points (11 GF, 14 GA) and you could see problems in their play. Landon Donovan was being moved all over the pitch, injuries were hurting them, and Buddle and Donovan each missed games with the USMNT at the World Cup.

Things did appear to turn around at the end of the season, with Galaxy earning 15 points in 7 games (11 GF, 9 GA), but it was still not what we saw from them to start the year. The team was struggling with how to integrate David Beckham to the team and figuring out exactly who to play in the midfield and where.

Like I said last week, Arena figured it out. This team is playing out of their minds right now and looks poised to make a deep run towards their third MLS Cup.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Yes, Colorado Can Hold On (Barely)

After the first game I openly wondered if Colorado Rapids could hold on to defeat Columbus Crew. Colorado left a lot of great chances on the table and squeaked out a 1-0 win at home. Well it was enough alright, although just barely.

Columbus came out with their hair on fire, playing with the kind of resolve that almost saw them tie up the first meeting in Colorado. Eddie Gaven rattled the post early, and Andres Mendoza skimmed one just past the post not too long after. Colorado was on their heels and finally gave up an opening goal to Eddie Gaven that came from a ball bouncing around in the box.

I don't know if Columbus purposely slowed up after that or if Colorado settled in and started to play better, but the Crew attack wasn't nearly as dangerous once they leveled the series. If it was Columbus pulling up, possibly fearing getting caught on the counter, it was a huge mistake. In the 35 minutes of the series up to that point where Columbus pushed the game, they absolutely dominated. When they sat back and tried to defend, it didn't go nearly as well.

However, Columbus looked poised to take the series anyway after Robbie Rogers survived a bump from Anthony Wallace and slid a goal past Matt Pickens in the 70th minute. Maybe sitting back and counter-attack can work, right Columbus?!


Colorado's attack is too good to give them repeated chances to attack. You have to make them defend if you want to slow them down. Conor Casey demonstrated why in the 84th minute when he slid on to a low cross from Omar Cummings (those two guys always seem to show up, huh?) and put an unstoppable ball by Andy Gruenebaum.

The game went to extra time and then to penalties, which I've embedded below in their entirety. You can watch them if you want, or read the commentary I wrote out as it was happening. BL = bottom left, TR = top right, etc.

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COL: Conor Casey - BL, guess BL, goal
CLB: Guillermo Barros Schelotto - BL, guess BR, goal
COL: Mac Kandji - BR, guess BR, goal off a terrible save blunder
CLB: Jason Garey - TR, guess BL, goal
COL: Jeff Larentowicz - BL, guess BL, goal
CLB: Eddie Gaven - BR, gues BL, goal
COL: Claudio Lopez - TL, guess BR, goal Christ, unsavable
CLB: Eric Brunner - TR, guess BL, goal
COL: Julien Baudet - TL, guess BR, goal
CLB: Brian Carroll - BAGGIO'D!!!!!!!!

Colorado gets another home game now, hosting San Jose Earthquakes in the Eastern Conference finals (yeah, I know) next Saturday. Hopefully their fans do better than the pitiful 11,872 that showed up last time, because this team is good and they deserve better.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Bobby Convey Parties Like It's 2006

This post was supposed to be about the NY/SJ series, but one player took the last game over to the point that I have to concentrate on him and him alone.

Remember when Bobby Convey was a young phenom? He came up with DC United after being the second youngest player ever drafted. He impressed so much that Tottenham tried to by him for $3m, but his work permit was denied because of too few appearances with the national team. Instead he went to Reading for the highest transfer fee they've ever paid.

It wasn't all fun and games though. He slowly fell out of favor with the national team (rumors are because of a poor attitude) and reached a mutual agreement with Reading to leave the club in 2009. Even his first season back in MLS wasn't too great.

However, he has completely turned it around this year. He's been huge for San Jose, playing great in the midfield and sliding back to play left back when their defense was ravaged by injuries. He's set up goals all over the place, delivered beautiful set pieces, and been a huge reason for the Earthquakes improvement this season.

All of this was on display last night as San Jose went into Harrison and beat New York Red Bulls 3-1 to come back and win the first-round playoff series.

First, he scored on a brilliant shot to the upper left corner off a cross that sat in the box.

Then he turned rookie of the year candidate Tim Ream like a Lazy Susan and netted another with a blast over Bouna Coundoul.

After New York scored to get level on aggregate Convey took over again, playing an inch-perfect ball from 40 yards out over the defense to Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski whose header to the upper right corner was absolutely unstoppable.

If Convey's resurgence this season isn't enough to get him called back in to the national team, I don't know what Bradley can be looking for. I know that left back isn't his preferred position, but we're super weak there and he would bring an attacking quality from the back line that we're seriously missing right now.

It's been great to see him turn his career around at 27, and there's still plenty of time left for him to continue to dazzle.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Whoa There, CCL

CONCACAF held the draw for the knockout stages of the 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League today, and that picture you see above is the result.

The two MLS teams will be facing off against each other, with the winner going against whichever Central American power survives the Olimpia/Saprissa matchup. Meanwhile, on the other side of the bracket, all four Mexican teams will have to fight it out for a shot at the title.

There are a couple good things going on here.
  1. The first knockout leg is the worst one for MLS teams. It takes place about 1 month before the season starts again, so teams haven't really even had time to train together yet. By putting two MLS teams together, yes it guarantees one will get knocked out, but it also guarantees that one will be able to get in better form and hopefully compete in the next stage.
  2. No Mexican teams until the final. MLS teams have performed much better against the Mexican competition this year, but it's still abundantly clear which is the superior league. I'm not saying an MLS team couldn't beat a Mexican team in a home-and-away series, but now they don't even have to worry about that until the finals
The schedule for the knockout stages is below.

First Leg (February 22-24)
Toluca (MEX) vs. Monterrey (MEX)
Cruz Azul (MEX) vs. Santos Laguna (MEX)
Columbus Crew (USA) vs. Real Salt Lake (USA)
Saprissa (CRC) vs. Olimpia (HON)

Second Leg (March 1-3)
Monterrey (MEX) vs. Toluca (MEX)
Santos Laguna (MEX) vs. Cruz Azul (MEX)
Real Salt Lake (USA) vs. Columbus Crew (USA)
Olimpia (HON) vs. Saprissa (CRC)

And yes, I am writing up my thoughts on the other two games this weekend (for all 4 of you out there who care) but suffice to say they can be summarized by "OMGWTFNYRB" and "Let's not start sucking each other's *popsicles* quite yet FC Dallas."

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Seattle 0 - 1 LA: I Guess Coaching Does Matter

Despite all my proclamations to the contrary, LA Galaxy came out in the first leg of their series against Seattle Sounders and took control of the proceedings. Edson Buddle dropped in a beautiful goal from maybe 30 yards out that provided all the scoring Galaxy needed as the beat Sounders 1-nil in Seattle.

The biggest thing I took away from this meeting was that LA's midfield really seems to be coming together. In the middle of the season Donovan was getting moved around too much, too many people were getting playing time, and it was hard for the midfield to develop a character. Then Beckham came back after missing the first 23 games with injury and added a new wrinkle everyone needed to get used to.

Now, after some more experimentation with Landon up top or Becks in the middle, LA seems to have found a formula that works. Buddle up top with Mike Magee (or occasionally Tristan Bowen if you want speed), Juninho as the attacking mid, Landon on the left, Beckham on the right, and then either Dema Kovalenko or Chris Birchall in the back depending on whether it's more important to disrupt the opponent's attack or provide service forward. It worked extremely well tonight.

Juninho disappeared from time to time in the first half, but is clearly the answer in that slot. Check out this combination play between Landon, Magee and Juninho that really should have doubled LA's lead in the 85th minute.

But that wasn't the only reason LA got the win; they had a great plan for shutting down Seattle's dangerous wing play and played it tremendously. I was worried with Eddie Lewis starting on the left that Zakuani and Nyassi would have a field day using their speed to get past him. But Arena had Donovan tracking back to provide cover against the speed and then Lewis was able to use his experience to close the young guys down once they had to attack him from a stop.

It was amazingly well executed, and only made possible by LA having a player of Landon's caliber. Other teams clearly haven't been able to play the same strategy but Galaxy gave Seattle fits this year, beating them by a combined 7-1 in the regular season.

Maybe I didn't give the past enough credit and chose to ride Seattle's greatly improved play in the second half to make my decision. I'm still not ready to completely write off Seattle's chances, mind you. Sigi Schmid is a great coach and I'm sure he'll have something new ready for the return leg in Los Angeles. Whether or not it's enough to overcome a goal deficit, we'll have to wait and see.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Can Colorado Hold On?

Colorado Rapids beat the visiting Columbus Crew 1-0 last night on a goal from Pablo Mastroeni to open up the MLS Cup Playoffs. But Colorado had numerous chances to put the game, and the series, away and failed to do so. Will that come back to haunt them next week when they play the leg in Columbus?

The match was very entertaining with lots of attacking and chances (although most of them were for Rapids). If you didn't manage to catch the match, the highlights are right below this paragraph and you can read match reports from the Denver Post or Columbus Dispatch to get a little hometown flavor.

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So now the obvious question is can Colorado hold on and win? After Columbus came out strong to open the game, Colorado dominated play for 75 minutes. No one on the backline seemed to be able to mark Cummings or Casey, Anthony Wallace was flying down the left wing with basically nothing stopping him, and Larentowicz and Mastroeni were stopping every Columbus attack before it even crossed midfield. It was a clinic in how to play the game.

Except that Colorado only got one goal. And then Columbus started to turn things around in the last 10 minutes. Suddenly they were the team attacking on all cylinders, finding guys unmarked in the box, and keeping possession of the ball. If Columbus comes out next week and plays like this at home, it could be a long game for the Rapids.

Not to mention, we saw Colorado blow a 2-0 lead at home the week before against Real Salt Lake. Is it possible that this team is just a little mentally weak, especially with them not having the post-season experience of a squad like Columbus?

I picked Colorado to win this series, and I still think they can, but it's going to be a lot more exciting than I thought it would be at halftime.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Toronto FC: Season Retrospective

Overall: 14-8-8 (33 GF, 41 GA)
Home: 6-6-3 (24 points, +4 GD)
Away: 3-2-10 (11 points, -12 GD)

Finish: 11th overall, 5th in the East

Scoring Leader: Dwayne De Rosario (15)
Assists Leader: Nick LaBrocca (6)

Year in review