Friday, November 13, 2009

Union Till I Die: Which Side Are You On?

By El Luchador
The capitalists who run the International House of Soccer (MLS) have long treated the workers like 19th Century French coal miners. For some time now, El Luchador’s sources within the soccer labor movement have warned that negotiations have not gone well for the collective bargaining agreement that expires at the end of this year.

The Columbus Dispatch this morning sensationalizes the situation on its front page. (Read article here.)

Brother Shawn Mitchell writes:

Major League Soccer players will strike or be locked out next season unless collective-bargaining negotiations between their union and the league make a drastic improvement, sources with knowledge of negotiations said.

A collective-bargaining proposal made by the league last week was "very disappointing," said Crew goalkeeper William Hesmer.

Set aside for a moment that Ohio's Greatest Home Newspaper will only put soccer on the front page when it is a negative story about a labor dispute. (Just think if the Crew were building a casino).

The Major League Soccer Players Union was formed in April 2003 to promote the best interests of all MLS Players. The founding members of the Players Union’s Executive Board included Landon Donovan, Tim Howard, Chris Klein, Alexi Lalas and Ben Olsen. The Players Union serves as the exclusive collective bargaining representative for all current players in Major League Soccer.

League Pit Boss Don Garber strikes an optimistic tone in the Mitchell article, saying there is “plenty of time to finalize a new agreement … There will be many more meetings, many more discussions about a wide variety of issues.

El Luchador encourages his faithful followers to read the current collective bargaining agreement, which is available here.

You will see that it is structured to give the capitalists who control the means of production at the International House of Soccer the maximum ability to exploit the labor of the brave men who actually go out on the field and do the work.

Essentially, the American economic model for professional soccer is a form of 21st Century indentured servitude.

Union President Bob Foose and the players are working to alter the structure of MLS player contracts. The current agreement does not offer guaranteed contracts, or any form of free agency and entangles the players in one-way options that maximize the power of the teams over individual players. In most cases, players are forced to sign semi-guaranteed contracts, which allow the team bosses to cut players before July 1 without having to pay out their contracts.

This is highly exploitive of the lower level players, who are left with sweatshop wages and no measure of control over their careers. (Keep in mind, for example, that Steven Lenhart’s base salary this year was less than $34,000. That was a huge increase over his 2008 of $12,900.) For more on MLS salaries, read this article from the Luchametric archive.

After players are released, their teams retain their rights, which forces other teams to trade for those rights if they want to sign that player, thus making it very difficult for the players to negotiate and find a new home.

All the union wants is a collective bargaining agreement that abides by the same rules as the rest of the planet under FIFA.

As Crew Midfielder Brian Carroll told the Dispatch: “It's about rights more than money. But we want things to be fair. That's all anybody can ask for."

El Luchador stands behind his brothers in Black & Gold and across the MLS as they fight for economic justice.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Arsenal and Chelsea Outpace the Pack in Updated Power Rankings

By El Chupacabra
The Luchametric EPL Power Rankings have been fully updated through Monday's match at Anfield. Arsenal is back on top followed, again extremely closely, by Chelsea. Man U and Man City round out the top four but are significantly back of the top two.

Notice that a mere .16th of a StandDev separates the Gunners from the Blues. Chelsea has more points and more wins, but Arsenal has more goals (as always, you can look at the comprehensive data here). The Goal Differential of both teams is nearly identical: 22 for Arsenal; 21 for Chelsea. Arsenal has played one game less than Chelsea, and this accounts for the difference in wins to some extent.

Before you Blues fans blow a gasket, consider that the difference between the two teams is really negligible, at least statistically, but it comes down to this: Arsenal is a better offensive club, Chelsea the better defensive club. And Chelsea is probably more balanced overall.
The Luchametric weighs a number of different variables, and it could be that we need to look at the defensive side of the model. We have a measure for Quality Scoring Chances, for example, and in this measure Arsenal is clearly superior. But we're still looking at comprenhesive statistical measures of a team's defense.

We can say this, however: A full 42 % of the Gunners' Shots on Goal become goals, compared to 30% for Chelsea. That's a 25% difference. Also, 32% of Arsenal's SOG Against become Goals Against, compared to 25% for Chelsea (the league average is 25%; the league leaders are Villa with an impressively low 18%). Arsenal allows 1.27 GA per game, while Chelsea allows a mere .67 GA per game. And Chelsea allows only 2.67 SOGA per game, while Arsenal allows 4.0 SOGA. That's fairly significant. Chelsea is unbelievably stingy. You may have noticed on Sunday if you caught the game against Man U that Chelsea had the usual four man back line, but then frequently had another two men behind that. They were in essence playing a sort of 2-4-3-1 or you could just call it a 5-4-1. This shows both their respect for Man U and the genius of Ancelotti.

At this point, given the history of the league and of the big four, its understandable why so much attention still gets paid to Liverpool, who really are in trouble at this point, and that so many people continue to doubt Wenger's confidence that his club is playing for the title. But the evidence is clear: this year, barring injuries (Bendtner), Chelsea and Arsenal are the cream of the league. We look forward to the November 29 match at Emirates against Chelsea. This will be the true test of the two teams and should be some outstanding football. The league's best attacking club against the league's most balanced and most stingy club. At Stamford bridge, we'd take Chelsea, but at Emirates, Arsenal will give the Blues all they can handle.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Crew 2, Real Salt Lake 3. The Nordecke Address

One score minus seven years ago, Clark Hunt's father brought forth on this continent, the Crew Soccer Nation, conceived in revelry, and dedicated to the proposition that all men and women are equal in the Nordecke.

Now, we stand in defeat, having lost a great battle against a violent and undeserving foe, and this loss tests whether Crew Soccer Nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. The battle-field of Crew Stadium stands cold and empty after a promising season ended in misery. And we ask ourselves how we might honor that space and the august Men who dedicated their talent and energy and all their hearts to the battle.

Hesmer, Hejduk, Brunner, Marshall, Padula, Ekpo, Gaven, Carroll, O'Rourke, Schelotto, Moreno, we honor you. Lenhart, Rogers, Garry, Warzycha. We salute you.

It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow, the ground where these men fell in defeat. Our words here are inadequate.

These brave men who struggled there, have consecrated Crew Stadium, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did there.

It is for us the fans, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought for us have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us: that from this humbling defeat at the hands of an incompetent referee and dishonest team, we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion, that we here highly resolve that this defeat shall not have been endured in vain, that Crew Soccer Nation shall have a new birth of glory. And that Soccer of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Nordecke Luchador joins hands with his brothers and sisters across the land, in solidarity for the Black and Gold, from the Scioto to the Olentangy, from South Bloomfield to Delaware. From Reynoldburg to West Jeff. Columbus Till I Die.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

EPL Handicapping: Stoke at Hull City

By El Chupacabra

We've chosen Stoke at Hull as our pick of the week. And we like Stoke here. We REALLY like Stoke. The odds for this match make it the best bet of this weekend's fixtures. Hull City FC is in absolute turmoil. Given Jozy Altidor's presence on the squad, we'd love to root for the Tigers, but Altidor has behaved like an absolute moron, and Hull is clearly the weakest team in the league. Hull is beat up and their key creator Geovanni is out with two yellows.

OUR PREDICTION: Stoke to Win. Do it.

LINE: Hull +170 Stoke +150

LUCHAMETRIC: Advantage: Stoke
- Hull is one place from the bottom of the EPL Table and at the very bottom of the Luchametric Power Rankings. Stoke has an advantage of 1.3 Standard Devs over Hull. Stoke has had trouble scoring on the road but Hull has had trouble scoring, period, and they give up more goals. Finally, in a close match, even on the road, we expect Stoke to create better chances than Hull. They have a considerable advantage in our measure of quality scoring chances of nearly two full StandDevs.

RECENT TRAVEL: Hull City - Stoke will travel about 140 miles to Hull for the match. Both teams have not played since last weekend.

MOTIVATION: Draw - Hull City is in turmoil and looking to somehow get out of the relegation zone. Stoke City is looking to establish itself as a solid, upper level club and garner an invitation to the Europa League. If the Hull locker room hasn't succumbed already to defeatism, they'll come out swinging.

RECENT FORM: Advantage: Stoke - Nine points in its last six matches as compared to Hull's four. Most importantly, Stoke has two wins and a draw in its last three matches.

INJURIES: Advantage: Stoke - Hull is beat up. Stoke is at full strength.

The Logic of a Single Table for MLS: Garber Doesn't Get It

By El Chupacabra

If you saw the interview with MLS Commissioner Don Garber on Fox Soccer Fone-In on Monday, you saw him respond to a question about implementing a Single Table for the MLS (listen to it here). His response was, and I paraphrase, that he doesn't "get it." His argument is that a single table would make games at the end of the season meaningless.

Said Garber (and I quote): "The Columbus Crew would have won 10 days before the end of the season. They would have been celebrating the championship at a game where they lost.

“I understand the heritage and tradition that people enjoy with a single table. But somebody would have to explain to me how that would be better than what we have now, because I’m not getting it."

Garber's logic is flawed in a few key ways. First and foremost, a single table does not preclude a playoff system. The FIFA tournaments and the UEFA Champions League use a group system and then a knock-out round. One could argue that the current MLS arrangement with two conferences and then a play-off is similar. However, the MLS playoff system as it currently stands takes the top two teams from each group (conference) and then the next four best teams regardless of group (conference). This arrangment essentially amounts to letting the top eight teams in a single table into a knock-out round, which the International House of Soccer calls the MLS Cup. What's worse, the MLS system lets in half of the teams in the league. This year, Real Salt Lake had more losses than wins and amassed a mere 40 pts over the course of the season. The average number of points earned in the league this year was 40.4.

El Chupa agrees that the games at the end of the season should have meaning. But this desire needs to be balanced with the logic of sport--and the logic of logic.

If the purpose of any competition is to determine who is the best team, then clearly the team that does the best over time is the best team. Period. The MLS system allows teams which are clearly inferior a shot at knocking off a better team in a short series. Anything can and will happen in a short home and away series. Rubin Kazan just "won" a home and away series over Barcelona. Yesterday in the frigid cold of Kazan's Central Stadium, Rubin kept six defenders back and essentially played for the draw, stifling Barca's vaunted offensive machine who all looked like they were literally freezing their asses off. Is Rubin a better team than Barca? Hardly. Barca will still most likely make it out of their group along with Inter, and the Russian Premier League champions will end up in the UEFA Europa competition. This is as it should be, as the group stage gives teams the chance to recover from upsets, thus insuring that only the very best teams make it through to the knock-out round

Now, don't El Chupa wrong, he loves it when an underdog sticks it to a better team. It makes for great sport. But such drama doesn't belong in a knock-out round where the true underdogs have no place. In a sound system, the inferior teams will have been eliminated. But in the MLS playoff system, teams that are not even AVERAGE get a shot at being a spoiler, as they aren't eliminated in the "group stage" (regular season).

Garber also spoke of American "sporting traditions and heritage." Um, by this does he mean he wants the International House of Soccer to follow in the footsteps of the NBA and the NHL, where bad teams get rewarded with a playoff spot for monetary reasons only? The NBA system is a joke. But even in the NBA, the first round is seven games, which make it a legitimate test. If the MLS had a three-game knockout round, it would be one thing. But the current system, which doesn't weight away goals like the UEFA competitions, doesn't do justice to the logic of a sport which demands its own distinct and reasonable means of determining not just the winner of individual competitions, but the best team over the course of several competitions.

Yes, some times the best team doesn't win. And that's what makes sport exciting. But the International House of Soccer is clearly going for entertainment value over competitive legitimacy.

We love the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, where Cinderella teams routinely make runs into the Sweet Sixteen--but generally no further and RARELY into the final four. And we certainly think it's the case that truly great teams need to step it up in high pressure situations. But there have to be limits. And we think the current MLS system is unbalanced in favor of sports-O-tainment and of the business of sport. We like salary caps and revenue sharing. We think the European leagues are unbalanced and less interesting than American leagues like the MLS and the NFL where smaller-market teams actually have a chance of being champion. But the fact is: Garber just doesn't get it.

The solution? A single table with a revamped playoff system that reduces the number of teams which make it to the knock-out stage with the compensation of participation in international competitions based on ranking in the single table. Major League Soccer Rumors offers a very interesting possibility here, and it's one El Chupa endorses. Researching this article has resulted in a dismaying number of douche-bags in the blogo-sphere, including Brian Strauss and Paul Pabst, who also don't get it, and who clearly are coming from a rather provincial perspective that bristles rather xenophobically at the infatuation American soccer fans have with the European leagues. To Pabst's credit, he misses only the obvious point that a single table doesn't preclude a playoff system nor is Pabst anti-European. Strauss is just, well, a douche.

If you can track down Garber's email (I failed), send him a note reminding him that as long as MLS continues to cater to American sports fans rather than American soccer fans, the MLS will remain the joke it is in the world of International Pancakes--er, I mean football.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Fight the Power: Come Out Thursday. Do It.

By El Luchador
Thursday's home playoff match against the violent, undeserving thugs of Real Salt Lake is more than just an epic battle of good versus evil. It is an opportunity for thinking soccer fans who bleed Black and Gold to step up and show the mainstream establishment of Columbus that we do not subscribe to their way of life.

Among Columbus sports fans, there is a long-standing tradition, promoted by the Columbus Dispatch and perfected to an art from by Buckeyes: when the going gets rough, shit all over the coach.

The Dispatch's Mike Arace is trying this week to bring this tradition to the Columbus Crew. Don't let him do it.

In a screed published on Tuesday, Arace asks: "What was coach Robert Warzycha thinking?" He goes on, predictably, to answer that whatever Our Coach was thinking, it was wrong, and it's going to prove fatal, yada, yada, yada.

As is typically the case with the hamburger heads at "Ohio's Greatest Hometown Newspaper," Arace went for the low-hanging fruit, questioning Warzycha's decision to bench Guillermo Barros Schelotto in Game One at RSL.

Employing the Donald Rumsfeld Socratic method of asking sarcastic rhetorical questions, Arace writes: "Isn't that going too far? Was he giving his team its best chance to win? How so?"

This is the same type of Monday-morning whining that goes on every week across Ohio, as Buckeye Fans hammer the coach for every perceived misstep. Fueled by the pundits at the Dispatch and on stations like 610 WTVN, Buckeye fans funnel every disappointment and failure of their own personal lives into thoughtless criticism of their coach.

In Crew Soccer Nation, we stand by our coach. We do not subscribe to the fair weather approach of our Buckeye Brethren. We know that football is a fickle lover, that strategies and tactics are not a science but an art, and that history favors the winners.

Come out Thursday and show the world that we support the Crew through good times and bad. Show Warzycha that we understand and support his decision to start Luchadores Lenhart and Renteria up top in Game One. Show the Man that we shall not be moved by sedition. Show your Buckeye friends how real men and women stand up for their team and their coach in times of difficulty.

El Luchador's prediction: Crew 2-0 RSL. Robert Warzycha 1-0 Michael Arace.

Do it. Columbus 'Till I Die!

Monday, November 2, 2009

EPL Power Rankings: Blues on Top

By El Chupacabra

The Luchametric EPL Power Rankings have been fully updated through Wednesday's West Ham v Villa fixture. Chelsea is on top followed EXTREMELY closely by Arsenal. Man U and Man City round out the top four.

Chelsea's nine wins has put them on top of the official league table and at the top of our power rankings. They also allow very few Goals, Shots, and Shots on Goal compared to the rest of the league. Arsenal has scored a league-leading 32 total goals which has contributed much to it's place in the standings. The Gunners have a game in hand and with Chelsea and Man U playing next weekend, Arsenal will have a chance to pass Man U in the official table when they visit Wolves.

Other movement worth noting. Villa have dropped below Spurs as a result of their loss to the Hammers. West Ham itself is much higher in our table than in the official table. We stand by our rankings. The Hammers are better than the results they've achieved thus far.

Also, Portsmouth has climbed out of the cellar and perhaps have turned things around. We shall see.

We'll have more to report once we crunch the numbers.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

UEFA Champions League Preview: Play the H1N1 Card

By El Chupacabra

You've heard of H1N1. Maybe your household has fallen pray to its ravages. But if there's any week that would be a good week to play the H1N1 card at work (um, call in "sick" because you're sure you've got the flu de pork) it's this week. There are great UEFA Champions league fixtures both Tuesday and Wednesday, and the very best are on FSC. If you don't have the cojones to call in sick, then set your DVR and tell the wife to clear your schedule Tuesday and Wednesday night after work (take advantage of the extra hour today to earn some bonus brownie points from the little lady if need be).

Here's our picks to watch this week. Taken together, they make this one of the best weeks of the Fall thus far for fans of the beautiful game.

Chelsea at Atletico Madrid - Tuesday, Nov 3 at 2:30 FSC. Chelsea is at the top of the EPL table, Atletico is near the bottom of the La Liga standings. Atletico is at the bottom of the group standings in Group D in the Champions League with a mere one point, and Chelsea is on top with nine. On the face of it, this is an abject mismatch. But Atletico has their backs to the wall, and Chelsea is flying to Madrid for a midweek match after playing on Saturday. Atletico needs a win to have any chance of surviving the group stage, and they need a win to turn their season around and avoid the embarrassment of relegation. This should be a tough match for Chelsea, and some very enjoyable football.

Real Madrid at AC Milan - Tuesday, Nov 3 at 2:45 (Live on FSE and Delayed until 7:00 on FSC). If this is the only match you catch this week, catch it. Ronaldo's still out and AC beat Madrid in Madrid in their first meeting. Both teams have six points in the group and both could use a positive result. This a tough group, with Marseille and Zurich lurking closely to the leaders and looking to find their way through. As Dr. Bumba is found of saying, this is "cracker jack" football at its best. Both teams need a win. Watch it. Do it.

Barca at Rubin Kazan - Wednesday, Nov 4 at 12:30 (Live on FSC). Rubin Kazan currently sits atop of the table in the Russian Premier League. Barca is Barca. Rubin Kazan shocked Barca two weeks ago at Camp Nou, embarassing the reigning UEFA Champions League Champions, Spanish La Liga Champions, and Spanish King's Cup holders. We consider Group F to be the toughest Group in the competition, with Barca, Inter, Rubin Kazan and the Dangerous Dynamo all vying to get through to the next stage. We look for Barca to come prepared but they are facing a long trip, midweek, to play a foe at home who has proven they can play with the best in the world. This should be a great match. We expect Barca to be motivated and prepared to play their very best. If they do, you will see the beautiful game at its absolute finest.

Liverpool at Lyon - Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:30 (Live on FSC). Liverpool is on their back, having lost last week to Arsenal in the Carling Cup and on Saturday to Fulham. Who knows? Benitez could be sacked before this match even starts. Needless to say, the Scousers need a win to salvage their chances in the Champions League and to turn their season around. There's too much money on the pitch when the Reds hit the turf for upper management to continue to tolerate mediocre play. Liverpool is not Fulham, nor are they Villa. In other words, playing only asbwell as the latter two clubs is unacceptable for one of richest clubs in the world. Expectations among fans and haters alike are higher than Benitez' squad has yet achieved this year. But enough about the Reds.

Lyon is in second place in Ligue 1, and on top of the Group with nine points. This is a tough group as well, as Fiorentina is a solid squad, with a dynamic international striker in Gilardino. If you know nothing about Lyon but hate (or love) Liverpool, this should be a good match to watch. Liverpool will push hard to earn three points away as a loss will put them face to face with being eliminated in the group stage.

There are other fine matches, such as Stuttgart at Sevilla. But if you're picking your spots and have a busy week, you could do much worse than to catch one or two of the above fixtures as you wait for Friday's Crew match against RSL. C-Bus 'till I die.

Crew Recap: No Fear

By El Chupacabra

Yes, we're disappointed at yesterday's playoff result. But not for the reasons the casual Crew fan might expect.

El Chupa was dismayed not to see Schelloto in the starting XI, but given the result and the comments by Warzycha, he agrees with the strategy.

We wrote that we'd be happy with the draw, and appprently Warzycha decided that he'd prefer shutting down RSL at midfield and at the back in exchange for looking to score only on the counter-attack. And for 88 minutes the strategy worked.

A quick review of the Crew blogs (click here and here) reveals how frustrated Crew Nation is at the moment, from the Scioto to the Olentangy, from South Bloomfield to Delaware. From Reynoldburg to West Jeff. And it's understandable. The Luchametric clearly shows how the Crew are an entirely different team with Big Willie running things, creating opportunities for others as well as threatening the opposition's goal by his lonesome.

But Luchametric tells us something positive about the Crew's chances in the home leg this Thursday: RSL stinks away from Rio Tinto. Barring a draw, a 1-0 loss was really the next-best result for the Crew. RSL scored only nine goals over 15 away games all season or .6 G/GM. And as we wrote in our preview, the two teams were virtually the same in every other category. The Crew return to their own beds and to the friendly confines of Crew Stadium where the Nordecke hordes have inspired them to score 25 goals or 1.67 G/GM. Keeping RSL from scoring was really the number one goal at Rio Tinto, as the Crew needs to advance on aggregate goals scored, and their best chance for scoring, even running up the score, is at home in C-Bus

In life, as in the beautiful game, there is randomness built into the very fibre of football. Statisticians who study football argue over things like the Bernoulli principle and the Poisson distribution. But for the serious fan who thinks numbers are very useful tools but doesn't feel like getting an advanced degree in higher math, you simply need to know that randomness, or uncontrollable variables, are part and parcel of the game. In short, luck plays a part in when, how, where, and how often goals get scored.

Yesterday RSL got lucky. That's the way it goes. It is unfortunate for the Crew, but they are hardly on the ropes. They score at home, and they defend well at home. So we relish the chance to see them crush the dirty thugs from RSL and send them packing.

Yes, they better come to play, and we better see Schelotto in the starting XI on Thursday. El Chupa knows that at every level of sport, a team has to come inspired. Cool and calm is, in short, bullshit. So the Crew needs to step it up. The games are played on the pitch, not on paper, or on your Playstation, Xbox, or Atari. You can bet RSL will be motivated. The Crew needs to play like it's the last game of the year and leave absolutely nothing on the pitch at the end of 90+. We expect they will play like the champions they are. C-bus 'till I die.