Thursday, April 29, 2010

Crew at Seattle Preview: A Test of Both Teams


This weekend's fixture between the Crew and Seattle is a tough test for both clubs.  Seattle badly needs three points.  They've only earned 8 PTS over 6 games thus far and are 2-2-2 on the season.  With a full 20% of the season elapsed for the Sounders, they need to step it up or kiss their playoff hopes and its revenue goodbye. Currently, Seattle is at 1.33 PPG. This would get them to 40 PTS for the season, which historically for the MLS has been the cut-off point for getting into the playoffs.  However, our metric is slightly more dour for Sounders fans.  Our current projection is for Seattle to top off at 34 PTS for the season, given their current rate of projection.  Regardless of which measure you prefer, the Green Wave can't afford to drop anymore points at home.

Meanwhile, the Crew have earned a semi-massive 7 PTS in three games, and at 2-1-0 would appear to be the favorite.  Alas, things are not that simple.

It's certainly true that of the the three opponents both teams have faced (TOR, DAL and RSL), the Crew are 2-1-0 with 7 PTS earned while Seattle is 0-2-1 with two PTS earned.  And the Crew are averaging 1.67 GF/GM to Seattle's 1.17.  And thanks to His Royal Majesty King Funk, AKA Billy Jack, AKA William Hesmer, the Crew is giving up only .67 GA compared to Seattle's 1.17.

Overall, however, Seattle has faced a tougher schedule, and one must be careful in assuming that the Crew's numbers are a true indication of their performance.  Seattle's six opponents have averaged 1.2 PPG or -.48 on the LM.  The Crew have faced three opponents who have earned an average of .92 PPG or -1.09 on the LM.  And as we've indicated in an earlier post, the Crew's defense is suspect.

Note also that the table above tells us that the Crew give up more SHTA and SOGA per game than the Sounders, while the number of SHT and SOG each team produces per game are relatively the same.  And both teams are producing less than the league average number of SOG per game.  The Crew does have an advantage in our measure of Quality Shots on Goal, however, suggesting that they need fewer chances to capitalize.  And the Sounders have given up 1 more goal than expected (EGA in the table above) given how many chances opponents have produced against them.

To sum: here's hoping Hesmer keeps up his excellent work, that the Crew's attack gets production from more than just Big Willy Schelotto (who may not even play), and that the Sounders "struggles" (hey, they're currently fourth in the league in the single table) continue.  Unfortunately, this one looks headed for a low-scoring draw.  Take the under at -114 (1.88) if you really feel the need to put some money down on this one.  Or throw the dice on the Crew at +200 (3.00) if you think the Black and Gold's attack is finally going to break through and do some damage.  But honestly? I'd avoid it like the plague.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Crew Defense Stats: Another Luchametric Exclusive


Yesterday we looked at the Crew's attack, today we look at the team's defense.  What we see is troubling.

The grid to the left provides us with every SHTA and SOGA the Crew have faced over the first three games. It does not include PKs or free kicks.  Notice that virtually every SHTA and SOGA is right in front of the goal and inside the penalty area.  In other words, far from forcing teams to shoot from outside or take low-percentage shots, teams are getting right up in the Crew's grill.  The other numbers look even more problematic.  Check out the table below:

The Crew have given up only 2 GA so far.  Obviously, that is a good thing.  "EGA" is Expected Goals Against, or how many goals the team would be expected to give up, given how many SOGA they've allowed.  This is calculated by taking the number of SOGA the team has faced and multiplying it by the percentage of SOGAs that result in goals across the league on average.  Currently in the MLS, 18% of SOGAs result in Goals.  This is low and will go up over the course of the season to anywhere from 26% to 30%--the latter are the historical averages from 2008 and 2009 combined.  So, the Crew have actually given up fewer goals than expected given the number of shot opportunities they have allowed to be created against them.   Why?  Two words: William Hesmer.

The data clearly shows us that the Crew's back four aren't preventing scoring opportunities and are, in fact, allowing more scoring opportunities than the average MLS club.  Further, the very quality of shots they're giving up is alarming.  And yet the number of GA is low and the Crew have eked out two wins and a draw.  The only explanation is our boy Hesmer, whose save percentage of 80% puts him third in the league as does his .67 GAA.  William, we dub thee Billy Jack.  Thou art truly massive

The other important numbers in the last three columns support our assertion and love for His Royal Majesty King Hesmer.  As you can see, although the Crew are giving up more SHTA and SOGA than the league averages, the percentage of SOGAs that result in GA is a very low 13%.  This is very good given the current league average of 18%, and excellent given the historic league average of 26% or so.  Once again, Billy, we salute you.  Hagado Columbus! Till I die....

Monday, April 26, 2010

Crew Attack Stats: Luchametric Exclusive

We have preliminary data that show Robbie Rogers needs to step it up.

Nordecke Luchador will be tracking the Crew's attack this season like no other blog on the planet.  To the left is a chart detailing where on the pitch the Crew have produced either a Shot or a Shot on Goal or a Goal.  Note that this chart does not reflect free kicks or penalty kicks.  We're relying on ESPN's Gamecast feature to track the data, and over the Crew's first three games at least, Gamecast does not show where on the field the free kicks are being taken.  Our good friend Colin over at Championship At Best has clued us in on an alternative data source, but we're still working on accessing it.  Once we do, we may be able to provide even more insight.  And kudos to Colin as well for his outstanding work, upon which we've based the above chart.

How to use the chart? Well, it tells us the Crew is getting good opportunities in the box, which is always a good sign you're team is playing well in the offensive phase.  And the attack looks very balanced as well. But the chart is best used in combination with close observation of tactical tendencies in actual games. Is the team looking to push down the wings and cross?  Are we trying to break down defenses in front of the goal and get high-percentage shots on give-and-gos and through balls?  Should the Crew be taking more shots from the top of the box and beyond?  Open beer; drink beer; discuss.

Also, the table below gives us data on the Crew's attack through Saturday's fixture vs the garment clad warriors of RSL.

The Pro and Pro/GM stats are measures we developed to measure an individual player's contribution to his squad's offensive production.  The explanation is here.  Big Willie, Iro, Moffat and Lenhart are the top producers.  Rogers is last.  Notice just how few SOGs the left winger has.  SHTs, yes, but actual dangerous chances?  Not so much.  The other troubling thing we notice is that Big Willie produces a goal or an assist every 67 minutes of play (Min/G+A).  That puts him third in the league behind Buddle (61) and Morales (61.75).  But the rest of the Crew's attackers have yet to step up.  Once again, the Crew are relying too heavily on Schelotto to earn points.  It would be unfair and inaccurate to say the team is one-dimensional, as four players have 6 shots or more over three games.  But we certainly would like to see more goals and assists in the games ahead by the rest of the team's attack.

Notice also that immediately below the Crew's numbers we've included the top offensive players in the MLS this season for comparison.  One thing we'd point out right away is that if any one mentions Conor Casey to you as deserving of a roster spot on the USMNT in South Africa, point out to the would-be Einstein that all three of his goals this season are from PKs, same with Cunningham.  The talk about Buddle, however, may be warranted.

Finally, once we gain access to the new data stream, which will give us such elusive stats as passes created by a player that could have turned into a G or an Assist or a SHT or a SOG but didn't due to the subsequent player messing up or not quite reaching a beautiful through ball, we're going to tweak the metric.  Essentially, we'll be able to add "chances created" to what we already have.  This will allow us to include players, especially midfielders like Donovan, who clearly are producing for their clubs but whose production won't always show up as either a G or an A.

Hagalo, Columbus. 'Til I die...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hagalo Columbus! Do it.

"Do it." These two simple words encapsulate and embody the lifestyle that is Luchametric. It's not the corporate, materialistic mindlessness that characterizes Nike's insipid "Just Do It."

No, this is a more inclusive, counter-cultural, indeed, subversive concept that expresses an aspirational ideal for all working people and soccer fans everywhere. This is the battle cry of all men and women who understand that the wheels of capitalism are greased with the blood of the workers. This is the calling card of the people who know that there is honor in the struggle for justice.  

Now, the Luchametric Revolution marches on into eternity through the hard work and creative talent of one lone foot-soldier in the fight, the legendary street artist Rick Thomas.

On a rain-soaked night that saw the Crew avenge their 2009 play-off loss to Real Suck Lake on a Penalty Kick by His Greatness Schelotto, Brother Thomas unfurled a banner in the Nordecke that memorializes and immortalizes El Luchador's battle cry and demonstrates for all the world that Columbus stands at the forefront of the global soccer revolution. 

El Luchador and his associates, henchmen and viceroys salute this great man for his vision, talent and courage. By standing up for what he knows is right and supporting the cause, Brother Thomas has once again demonstrated the timeless truth of the words of Fidel Castro, who said: "A revolution is a struggle to the death between the future and the past." 

Hagalo Columbus. Do it. 

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Luchametric MLS Preview: Houston and Seattle to Win; Crew to Show Us Who Are Ya?


The numbers have been updated in time for today's fixtures, and here's a few talking points as you pub it up before today's matches.

Seattle at Toronto - Seattle are third in the single table with 8 pts.  Expectations for the Sounders are high around the league and the loss to NY early on at home has some questioning whether the team will be as dangerous as last season.  The books have the odds on this match at +180, and earlier in the week the odds were even higher.  Toronto has the worst GD in the league at -3.  Seattle drew with Dallas on Thursday but did so due to 2 Dallas PKs, one awarded late.  Seriously, this game is Seattle's to lose.  Anybody who thinks they aren't tough is blowing smoke.  And Toronto is a true bottom-feeder this year.

Houston at Chicago -  Chicago has scored one goal at home this year, and their GD overall is 0.  They produce a lot of SHT and SOGs, but they give up a lot as well. Houston is a much more balanced club, but have only scored one game on the road.  Expect a low-scoring game, with Houston absorbing Chicago's wide-open style of play. but Houston getting limited scoring chances. However, in our measure of Quality SOGs, Houston is the best in the league at 4.97 Goals Above Average, with a ridiculous 67% of their SOGs resulting in goals.  That rate will not continue, but it tells us that they don't need many chances to put it in the back of the net.  At +180, Houston is well worth the punt.

RSL at Crew -  We were very, very high on the Crew at the start of year, but it feels like they haven't played in months, and we simply don't have enough numbers or clear results to know if our sense that C-Bus is as good as we thought at the start of March is warranted.  We do know that RSL is a mid-table team. Their GD is +4, and they've scored 5 goals on the road, but three of those were at San Jose.  And they've earned just 4 PTS in 4 games overall and are once again on pace to place about 8th in the league.  The Crew will be rusty, but if they can settle in without giving up any goals, this game is one they should win.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Arsenal vs Man City: The Mother of All Matches -- Take the Over

By M.J.D.

Man City takes its UEFA Champions League aspirations into Emirates on Saturday (12:30 FSC) in a match that it absolutely has to win. Unfortunately for City, Arsenal is reeling from losses to Spurs and lowly Wigan, and although its EPL title chances are virtually nil, the Gunners will no doubt be hungry for a home win and an outside chance at overtaking Man U in the two spot in the league by season's end.  We've updated the Power Rankings and looked at the stats and the odds, and here's what we know.

Man City will have to attack, and they are capable of scoring goals on the road. They've scored 31 AGs this season.  Statistically the two teams are virtually even.  But Arsenal does have more total Shots and SOGs, and the Gunners allow fewer SHTA and SOGA.  But in our measure of Quality Shots on Goal, which gives a team credit for the ratio of goals it scores given the number of SHTs and SOGs it takes as compared to the rest of the league, Man City has a substantial advantage.  For example, the average team in the EPL earns .26 goals for every SOG it produces, or 26%.  But Man City scores 37% of the time it manages to create a SOG opportunity--a rather draw-dropping difference.  This means that the scoring opportunities it creates are of a considerably better quality than most of the league.  Arsenal's is up there as well at 34%, but the bottom line is that the Gunners will have to treat City's attack with respect or they will find themselves in a knife fight.

This has the potential to be an extremely tense and entertaining match, with lots of goals.  Which brings us to the odds.  The odds for Arsenal winning range from -141 to +104.  The odds for Man City winning range from +240 to +330.  If you can find a book that will give you positive odds on Arsenal, take it.  If you like to gamble rather than simply  make sound wagers, take City.  We can't imagine this will be a draw.  Finally, there are a range of over bets available from the European and British sportsbooks.  In the States, where the over is generally always at  +2.5, the odds are -140.  We think the over is without a doubt the best bet on this one.  And if you can manage to place a wager some place on the over at +3.0, which some books have in the +100 range or higher, do it.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

MLS Power Rankings: LA, CLB, KC on Top - DC, Toronto, Philly at Rock Bottom

By M.J.D
We've thoroughly tweaked the metric, and at this early stage, LA and the Crew are outpacing the rest of the league.  The Crew's numbers are obviously suspect, as they've only played two games.  But we think the rankings of the teams with 4 games played are fairly solid, which is only to say that our rankings accurately reflect how well, or how poorly, they've been playing over the season thus far, and not necessarily their potential.

Given all the work we've done over the last year on both the MLS and the EPL, we've added a column to our rankings (P Pts) that projects the number of points a team is on pace to accrue by the end of the year.  The key is that the projection is a hypothetical: "If LA continues to play they way they've been playing thus far [that is, they play this well for all 30 games, which is an abject impossibility], they are on pace to earn 68 points by season's end."  Obviously, it's not possible for D.C. to earn a negative 2 points, but that's how poorly they've performed thus far.  Wow.  They truly stink.

Other things worth mentioning include the fact that the infamous MLS parity is not as apparent early on.  The bottom six teams in the league look to be considerably weaker than the top six.  Could the MLS table finally be starting to look like other tables across the globe?  We'll have to wait and see.  But our rankings do suggest that at this early stage, both the league standings and a comparison of teams by points earned alone, do not reveal the real differences among the teams in the league.  Finally, if Philly, Toronto and DC don't turn it around soon, and continue to drop points for another 4 games, over 25% of the season will have elapsed and their respective playoff aspirations will almost certainly be over.  In any league, you have to establish a decent rate of point production per game, or else the hole you'll dig for yourself will be very difficult to climb out of.  Of course, in the MLS you can always stink it up and then get rewarded with the eighth playoff spot and THEN try and play like a champion.  But I digress. . .

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Chelsea Blows It; Man U Back in Contention; Spurs Surge; Man City Must Run the Table


We're still in shock over both Man U's victory at Eastlands and Spurs' win at home over the Blues.  Certainly both teams were capable of winning, and Spurs' win certainly was well-deserved.  The shock comes from having to stare another Man U league title in the face when we had been hoping all season that Chelsea would finally unseat Ferguson at the top of the table.  The facts are that Chelsea blew it, and few prognosticators thought it would happen.  And now Man U has to face Spurs at home while Chelsea must go to Anfield and earn three points against Liverpool.  Both teams' other games should earn them 6 points each, so today's events really have shaken things up.  The drama in the weeks ahead connecting Chelsea's fate to Man U's to Spurs' to City's gives fans of the EPL much to savor in the last four weeks of the season.

Spurs' destiny is now in their own hands, and should they earn points at Man U and Man City, they will surge right on into a European tour--and deservedly so.  Four points out of these two matches combined with wins against Bolton and Burnley would get them to 74.  Man City has games left with Arsenal, Spurs, and Villa before finishing at home against West Ham.  We earlier argued that City would drop points to Man U and Arsenal but beat Birmingham and then run the table to finish out the season.  They're still in a position to do as we predicted.  The problem is that Spurs have been much better than predicted, picking up six points when they weren't expected by anyone to do so.   This means that the game at home against Spurs is now an absolute must win for City, as they need 12 PTS out of their remaining four matches including a win at Arsenal.  12 Pts would get them to 74 leaving Spurs at 73 even if the latter win their other three matches.  Any slip whatsoever by City in the coming weeks and 4th place will elude them--unless Spurs' luck runs out and they come crashing back to earth.  Spurs too must win at City to keep the dream of the Champions League alive, and losing at Man U would certainly put them in a difficult position.  Here's hoping fans in the states get to see as much of the epic battle for fourth place as possible in the coming weeks.

Friday, April 16, 2010

MLS Power Rankings and Fixtures Preview: LA and KC (Believe it)

By M.J.D.

We were going to wait until each team in the MLS had played 3 games before starting this season's power rankings, but we were doing all the work anyway, so we decided to release them. It's very early in the season, and we don't have nearly enough data for the numbers to mean very much, but we thought that what we did have was revealing (look to the right and scroll down).  Here's what we know from watching some matches and crunching the numbers.

LA is for real.  Those 3 wins are no fluke. Their sheer rate of production is higher than we've seen since we started doing our nalysis using 2008 numbers.  They are currently producing over 15 Chances plus Goals per game, which is a rate they can't maintain for an entire season, but tells us just how well they HAVE  played for three straight fixtures. For example, they are generating three SOGs for every one SOGA.  And they have not given up a GA.  Again, they won't play this well all season, but right now they are dominating the opposition.  Which brings us to KC.

We're not afraid to admit it, we didn't expect this at all from the Wizards.  To quote ourselves: "L'Etat C'est Moi."  WAIT!  That was the Sun King.  Here's the real quote from our season preview: "KC signed some journeyman European players in the off-season but nothing to shout about. They amassed only 33 points last year, and we don’t see them doing much better this season"  Well, we may have to eat those words.  They've got six solid, legitimate points, and they are producing very close to LA's rate, if only over two games. 

Early stats and performance tell us only so much.  Right now, both LA and KC look legit.  And if they continue to play well through their next three or four games, we'll know even more.  Regardless, right now we wouldn't bet against either team at home.

On the other end of things, DC is in deep, deep, trouble.  They haven't just been losing, they've been getting their hat handed to them, then kicked in the arse, and then poked in the eye.  Sure, they have lots of time to turn it around.  But our analysis suggests that it's not just a matter of one or two tweaks to the lineup.  This dog just might not ever learn to hunt.

Now on to tomorrow's fixtures.  These are the games to watch, or at least to check up on Sunday morning if the MLS website is functional:

KC at Seattle - We'll be watching this one closely.  If KC goes in to Seattle and gets a result, we'll know more about both teams.  We still think the Sounders are going to be tough.  But their fans will be hungry for a clean three points and KC will be tested soundly on the road.  NY may have surprised the Sounders.  We don't expect KC to do so.

Chicago at DC - Relegation Preview.  Wait, there is no such animal in the MLS...yet.  But seriously folks, this is an early meeting of two teams that need to get it together and toot sweet.  If the Fire get a result, Curt Onalfo will be feeling the heat.  Chicago plays better on the road, something no one seems capable of explaining, so our sense is that the Fire will go in and get a positive result.  If they get three points, it will drive even the United fateful to an early exit from RFK en route to their homes in the DC suburbs.

RSL at LA - Given our allegiance to the Crew ('till we die), RSL is now to the Crew what DC used to be; namely, anathema.  So, we look forward to LA trouncing the MLS "champs" in a rematch of last year's MLS Cup and showing that RSL's playoff run was a fluke.  Emotion aside, this is another match whose result will tell us much about both teams, but probably more about RSL.  If the boys from Rio Tinto can earn a point, let alone knock off LA, we'll have to admit that they're more legit than we'd like to, um, admit.  If LA wins 1-0, or dominates, it might not tell us much about RSL, but it will be even more evidence that the Galaxy are the team to beat this season.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Luchametric Quickie: More on MLS Improvement

By El Chupa

We wrote about the improvement of the league recently, and this piece over at gives a nice overview of how US soccer development is showing signs of being a real producer of MLS talent.  El Chupa likey...

Monday, April 5, 2010

Man City, Spurs, Reds: Who's Going on a European Tour?

By El Chupa

Last week we looked at Liverpool's chances at overtaking Spurs and sneaking in to the fourth spot in the league.  Our conclusion was that Liverpool actually had a chance given how much easier was their remaining schedule.  In our analysis, we ignored Man City, not because we thought they had a worse chance than the Reds, but because regardless of what City accomplished, Liverpool had to overtake Spurs to make it to fourth.  We were also focused on refuting Rafa's claim that the Scousers still had a chance to earn the automatic bid to the Champions League.

Well, this weekend's fixtures have changed things, and we thought we'd update our prognostication.  So today we'll look at Spurs, Man City, AND Liverpool and make our prediction as to who, in fact, will attain the coveted fourth invitation to Europe's premier club competition.

We pointed out last time that Spurs had a very tough schedule compared to Liverpool, including games against Chelsea, Man U, Man City and Arsenal.  And, well, they still do.  To top it off, Spurs were soundly beaten by Sunderland last weekend, squandering an opportunity to pick up points that would have helped them immensely.  Lucky for them, Liverpool continued to torment their fans, managing a draw with a solid but surely weaker Birmingham.  Meanwhile, City absolutely THUMPED Burnley.  But Man City fans have to look forward to games against Man U (derby), Arsenal, Spurs and Villa.  The only tough game the Reds have left is against Chelsea. 

So, last weekend's fixtures put City at 59, followed by Spurs at 58 and Liverpool at a a distant 55 (notice how large the draw with Birmingham looms for the Reds).  Both City and Spurs have a game in hand over LFC. However, as we've indicated, Liverpool has by far the much easier schedule.  Liverpool's remaining opponents have earned on average 1.19 PTS/GM. Spurs' have averaged 1.69 followed by Man City's at 1.44.  This season, a team in the EPL has picked up, on average, 1.36 PTS/GM..  The table below summarizes the situation (if you can't make it out, click on it).

The final column reduces or increases each team's projected points based on the relative strength of that team's remaining opponents.  Notice that if each team earns the same number of points over its remaining games that it has all year, Man City squeaks in ahead of Spurs.  If we take into consideration the strength of each club's respective schedules, however, (at least from a numerical standpoint) City and Spurs finish in a dead heat.  Neither scenario looks good for the Reds.  Now that we've crunched the numbers, here's what we really think is going to happen.

Man City will pick up wins at home against Birmingham, Spurs, Villa, and West Ham.  They'll drop games to both Man U and the Gunners.   This will give them 12 PTS.  Spurs will manage only 1 PT over three games against Man U, Chelsea, and Arsenal.  They'll lose to City but thump both Bolton and Burnley.  This will give them a very disappointing 7 PTS.  Meanwhile, if we give the Reds a generous 12 points, with wins in four of their last five games, they still come up short.  Final standings in the race for fourth: Man City 71; Scousers 67; Spurs 65.  We actually expect the Reds to draw one of those wins, but feel magnanimous today.  And of course if Spurs go up to Manchester and manage to beat a surging City squad with its eyes on the prize, that swing in three points will pull them even with City.  It should be an interesting match.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

MLS Designated Player Rule Good for League

By El Chupacabra
There will soon be enough early-season data in the MLS for El Chupa to turn his formidable intellect to analysis of actual play on the field.  But with the resolution of the labor issue behind us and now the announced change in the designated player rule, El Chupacabra feels compelled to point out something he's noticed in just the first week of play.

The quality of play in the league as a whole, with some exceptions, is noticeably better this season than just a few years ago (this is a holistic rather than empirical observation, but El Chupa justifies it below). What's more,  the new labor deal and the change in the designated player rule bode well for the league as a whole -- extremely well in El Chupa's opinion.  In fact, we see Thursday's announcement expanding the designated player as a tipping point for the league.

First, let's give props to the owners and the single-entity model.  The learned men of the Luchametric Institute for Advanced Predictive Science  have railed against the single-entity model in the past, and we still find it problematic in many ways. But no one can argue that it has not produced  material success.

Average attendance in the league in 2009 was 16,000 per game, with Seattle, LA, and Toronto all over 20,000.  Philly and NY are both  projected to approach 20,000 per game if not more this season. There are currently nine soccer-specific stadiums with two more scheduled to open in 2011 and five more proposed if expansion proceeds as planned.  Of course, Seattle will never be taken entirely seriously until they are rid of the cursed artificial turf, but that will come with the continued support of their horde of vocal and knowledgeable fans.

So, now that MLS is established, has survived its first major labor dispute, has reached an acceptable and growing attendance average, it is time for further progress. The sudden and surprising change in the designated player rule is a major step forward. It allows for even more talent to come into the league. Let's be perfectly clear: this is all very, very good for the MLS and soccer fans of all stripes in the U.S.

The change in the designated-player rule will catalyze a trend that has been unfolding in the league over the last several seasons -- the steady increase of mid-level non-U.S. talent.  Initially, the league had stringent rules about the number of non-US players allowed on rosters. This was one of several decisions the league made to avoid the pitfalls that doomed the NASL in the 1970s.  This rule was gradually loosened and now the league looks more like the EPL than it does, say, the Mexican Primera Division.  Specifically, clubs from our beloved Crew to teams in more cosmopolitan metro areas like LA and NY have a mix of US and international talent. 

One key factor in the demise of the NASL was that all its stars were non-US has-beens, including the great Pele.  But that's not the case in the MLS.  Now that Beckham is, thankfully, done for most of the season, U.S. international Landon Donovan is the biggest star in the MLS, and the majority of non-U.S. MLS players are journeymen from Europe and south of the Border still in their prime.  Throw into the mix young international players seeking playing time and better living conditions and even wages along with aging but not over-the-hill non-U.S. stars (see Schelotto, Willy) and you've got a league that is well into its adolescence.  To sum, the MLS is not the NASL and never will be, and it is poised for its next period of growth..

Every serious soccer fan who follows the EPL or the other European leagues is familiar and quite comfortable with the international mix of the top teams in those leagues.  Arsenal has a French coach, it's star is the injured Fabregas (Spanish international), and its roster looks like a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly.  Further, the lower divisions in Europe, and even teams down-table in the top leagues, function much the way the minor leagues do in American Major League Baseball -- they're stocked with young players looking to get picked up by a top club.

Pay attention when big clubs start looking to smaller clubs for players either to sign outright or acquire on loan.  Also, when  you get a chance to watch an English first or second division club play an EPL team in the FA or Carling Cup competitions, notice just how young the players are on the lower division teams.  In short, such teams serve as high-caliber developmental teams for the bigger clubs, giving young players a chance to play, blossom, and then be sold or transferred when they've proven their mettle. Even Bordeaux, who are currently at the top of the French Ligue 1 table, are losing their young star striker Marouane Chamakh, most likely to Arsenal.

What we are witnessing in the MLS is the emergence of the top U.S. professional league as an increasingly competitive proving ground for young U.S. and non-U.S. talent.  MLS fans should be happy and satisfied with this progress.  This is a natural step in the league's evolution toward true first-division status.  El Chupa would certainly pay MLS prices to see the next Chamakh or Fabregas before he's snatched up by the Arsenals and Barcelonas of the world.   And if the league continues to grow, our top talent that currently plays in Europe will give the MLS a much longer look.

Again, the MLS is not quite there, but the ability of teams to sign more designated players, combined with the luxury tax on such signings that distributes money to other clubs, has the potential to achieve a balance that will continue to move the league forward.  MLS fans who long for more talent in the league--US or otherwise--should be very happy as the 2010 season unfolds as they will no doubt see the best professional soccer this country has witnessed since the 1994 World Cup.