Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Before Getting to Basketball, I Have to Get This Soccer Rant off My Chest


In 1990, I got my first taste of the World Cup.  I was living in Frankfurt at the time and the country literally shutdown for 4 weeks.  Our club even gave everybody little scorecards (like golf) to mark off the results as they happened.  This was still a time where we watched WEST Germany drop England in a crazy semifinal outside at the Volksfest on the 4th July, followed by fireworks.  Good times!  What was not such good times was in the weeks leading up to the tournament, when German friends and coaches would ask who I would be cheering for, to which I would reply, “USA, of course.

- insert laugh track
“Kein Mannschaft!”
“Haha, viele Glück!”
“Sie sind sehr schlecht!”
“Oo-Ess-Ah, oder Oo-Ah-Aye?” (Yes, this was them stating that the United Arab Emirates was a more viable team.)

It took a family friend to explain that the US had no chance to win a game, let alone advance, because NONE of their players played professionally in a major league, and that the team that that they had qualified with had less professional and International experience than many second and third division clubs, let alone the big teams like Eintracht.  This was almost completely true- Paul Caliguiri was playing for Meppen in the Bundesliga 2, but the other 20-some guys were all college or semi-pro players under 27.  In retrospect, the group was also an impossibly bad draw, as the cup was in Italy, and the other 3 teams in the group were Italy, Austria, and Czechoslovakia, all of whom were within a day’s drive of the venues.  US got predictably blown out by a loaded Czechoslovakian team and fell behind early against Italy and Austria.  This was considered an overachievement, as the 2 scored goals shocked most experts.  The silver lining was that the team was young and was going to improve.  

Most people remember the fireworks in 1994 (Wynalda’s free kick against Switzerland, Escobar, Leonardo rearranging Tab Ramos’ to give the US a glimmer of hope before Romario and Bebeto  stomped it out) and the peaks and valleys that have followed. But even when things were the worst (losing to fucking Iran, getting stomped by CZ again), the American soccer product appeared to be trending upward.  However, the last 12 months have revealed that US Soccer, as it is currently configured, is too inept and corrupt to execute a plan to bring it level with European and South American counterparts (and let’s be honest, Asian nations have closed the gap considerably).  For several years, Bruce Arena worked magic with a diverse group of players, as did Bob Bradley.  But both those guys were hamstrung by a federation was only concerned with quality of product when it resulted in bad publicity (crashing out of tournaments).  The primary focus is always money, typically from sponsors.

After the second Ghana loss, the focus was less on “how do we sustain this Top 10 status so we can break through?”, but more on “how do we capitalize on the momentum of Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore?”  That 2010 team had warts, but it had a young core (I cringe when I think about what could have been if Stuart Holden’s ACLs weren’t made of balsa) that was playing in all the leagues, from Mexico across Europe.  But the rub was that four of those players were active in MLS, and only Donovan was a bar-hold name, let alone a household name.  After rushing to chase off Bob Bradley after a flat, but nearly victorious 2011 Gold Cup (like seriously, they really expected a win with a back line of Goodson, Bernstein, and Lichaj? lol), there weren’t many better options out there.

Klinsmann’s hire was inspired, but ultimately flawed. Klinsmann is a true German treasure, right up to the cold, direct personality that expects no compliments and delivers succinct truths. Softer players that had grown up in a “participation trophy” environment were quickly replaced with younger, faster players that understood that it wasn’t that the coach’s word was the law- far from it- it’s that it was fact.  Playing abroad was better preparation for International competition than playing at home in the MLS.  However, one by one, those faces of the USMNT, Dempsey, Bradley, Beasley, Donovan, etc, all took favorable contracts to play in the MLS.  And when they showed up for final preparations for the 2014 World Cup, because their club season had just started, the MLS players looked horribly out of shape.  It did not help that US drew the Group of Death with Germany (best team in world), Portugal (top 5 team, plus arguably best player), and long-time nemesis Ghana. To even advance from that group was going to be a challenge, let alone with a squad out of synch and out of shape.  Yet somehow, they almost found their way through to the quarterfinals (drawing another top 10 team in Belgium).

Yes, Klinsmann went pretty far to bring in dual citizen players, but it wasn’t about talent.  It was purely about culture and the difference between competing professionally for your club and competitively for your country.  I remember years ago American basketball players turning down International gigs because, “Pay to play.” Fine, whatever. That really wasn’t this issue here, but US basketball had a much deeper pool from which to draw 12 players.  Klinsmann wanted to greatly increase his pool, both width and depth.  The fact that scrubs like Chris Wondolowski continue to get looks is baffling, which is why he made strong pushes for guys with much higher upside like Julian Green and Aron Johannsson.  And you know Johannsson has got to be kicking himself.  Iceland has been one of the most compelling stories the past two years, and, yes, with a pool of 332,000 (as opposed to 332,000,000) they qualified.  Klinsmann’s grass roots strategy was working from a talent development standpoint, but he did a terrible job managing the personalities and tactics on the field.  His hire should have been seen as a 2-3 cycle process, but the first major struggle and he was gone too.

The Iceland comparison really doesn’t do it justice.  One-thousand times the pool, one-thousand times the resources.  One tenth the production on the field.  Bruce Arena proved this isn’t an X’s and O’s problem.  This is a marketing and advertising problem that limits are pool to the players that are being seen as being able to return investment, not broadening or deepening (is that a word?) the pool to have the most tools available to win at any time on any soil. I am not kidding, but had Pulisic had not burst on the scene last summer, he probably would have been buried on the bench or not on the roster at all due to the coaching change despite being far and away the most talented player right now.  

US Soccer needs to get its shady corrupt head out of its ass and embrace what makes sports around the globe tick. First, the club structure, each being private entities COMPETING for the right to play in league and cup event, puts the power and impetus on the club itself to build a credible team and marketing strategy to raise money.  The owners and investors CHOOSE how they will go about it and spend accordingly.  For instance, MLS is spending a shade under $215M on player salaries this year. Seems reasonable in a vacuum, right.  But now consider that Paris St. Germain just dropped over $260M just for the right to pay Neymar even more (yes, one player) money, and will likely invest over a billion dollars for the roster they roll out in the 2018-19 season. It’s like that “orders of magnitude” thing again… the best opportunities for American players continues to be overseas, period. Basically, the American “system” encourages players to play for free in high school and NCAA, and those amateur organizations benefit.  The best players, however, (and yeah, if you haven’t figured out by 16 that you are good enough, you aren’t, so go get that Calculus book) are capable of signing for reasonable, sustainable wage, to train with the other 0.01%.  The MLS is broken because it relies so heavily on an amateur draft full of college players that, for the most part, have already peaked because they have spent the previous 8 years beating up on other amateurs and bonging beer out of each others butt cracks while ditching Sociology 101. 

Even if I am control of DC United, I cannot go out and compete for the best talent in the world. MLS (and to a lesser extent the US government as the NFL has learned) dictates how I manage my club, how much I spend, who I can spend it on, when I train, etc.  Screw that. Do you think the Bundesliga or German government tried to control or cap Dietmar Hopp’s investments transforming Hoffenheim (which, no shitting was probably about as professional a club as our over 30 beer league team) to an annual Champions League contender.  The “franchise” model adopted by the American government is designed to control growth.  Why else would you need a draft (like, what is this, conscription?), salary cap, non-guaranteed contracts, restricted free agency, etc? The franchise model eliminates any risk an owner may have developing a competitive team, as the American government prevents competition from other leagues and bars other teams from entering the system.  And because of that, there really is no incentive to get better except to sell more tickets and not be a laughing stock.  I mean seriously, have you seen the Cleveland Browns the last 20 years?  They should have relegated that smoldering bag of crap owner back to the Missouri Valley Conference years ago, where they would probably lose to North Dakota State.

There is reason to be excited about Gedion Zelalem, Matt Miazga, Weston McKennie, Cam Carter-Vickers, Josh Perez, etc, teaming up with Pulisic, Yedlin, and Nagbe.  These are players that jumped to foreign clubs in their teens (for decent money) and are already seasoned professionals.  Some of them should have been on the field in Couva last night.  The current system shuns them for taking stock in their value as a professional and moving overseas for higher levels of competition and compensation.  US Soccer does the same on the women’s side of the ball as well. These young players are enough to get get the US through CONCACAF qualifying for 2020, but we’ve been there before.  But the only way American soccer gets on par with its European and Latin counterparts is to embrace an open market in which the best talent is identified, scouted, and groomed early, and sought after by the best clubs in the world, not just the MLS.  On the flip side, American club sports tend to end after kids turn 18.  But why?  Every village across Europe that has more than 3 dairy cows or sheep has an athletic club that houses soccer of all ages.  Not all pay wages to play, but they all compete for something, at some obscure level.  American clubs would be attractive to youth if they had an adult counterpart, not just to scout or train, but to also provide a air of legitimacy. Instead, for that 332 million population, we have a few dozen legitimate clubs combing for the best players.  Talk about a needle in a haystack. But at least we got that sweet CONCACAF participation trophy.


Sie sind immer noch sehr schlecht.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Bracketology Results- 9-16 seeds

The first year in the matrix, I did, well, OK.  321 puts me in the lower third, but in a pretty tight group and nowhere near the bottom.  Commitment to ISU hurt, but the Big Ten also jacked things up with several teams more than one line off.  I will put up some additional thoughts and lessons learned.

5 points for a hit, 2 points for 1 line miss, -1 for 2 line miss, -4 for 3 line or more miss, -5 for missing the field

9 SEEDS: 7 points
ME: Vanderbilt, Maryland, Virginia Tech, Marquette
FIELD: Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech, Seton Hall, Michigan State

Analysis: Sneaking Vandy up to a 9 was a good call, despite the losses.  Virginia Tech outplayed their RPI, but much like Miami, was a hard team to slot with the rest of the ACC.  I think Seton Hall was the benefit of some fortuitous scheduling.  They are vey similar to Wake Forest, as they go as far as Delgado can take them.  Much like the rest of the Big Ten, the Spartans are even a slight reach for a 10 seed, but can get there on reputation, much like Syracuse last year.  A 9 is too high.

10 SEEDS: -2 points
ME: Rhode Island, Miami, South Carolina, Michigan State
FIELD: VCU, Wichita State, Marquette, Oklahoma State

Analysis: LOL… haha… LOL.

OK, in the committee’s defense, Marquette and OKST were seeded high in my metric that focused on more on form, less on RPI.  That said, NOBODY wants to play any of these teams.  But the Shockers are closer to the 1 line than the 10 line.  Marquette can drop 100 on anyone any night, and the Cowboys score more efficiently than Tiger at a Denny’s.  VCU is the weak link here, and they were the hottest team in the A-10, just lacking that Shaka swagger.  Let’s just say the 2 seeds are going to take it on the chin.

11 SEEDS: -9 points (-10 for ISU)
ME: Seton Hall, Nevada, Northwestern, Providence, Illinois State
FIELD: Providence, USC, Xavier. Wake Forest, Kansas State, Rhode Island

Analysis: So, here is where the bracketologists deserve a pass.  While there were a few upsets, with Valpo, Monmouth, and Arlington going down.  There were still several one-bids with profiles to snare single-digit seeds.  What the committee did to the field with Wichita State is reprehensible, but MTSU, Nevada, UNCW, Princeton, Vermont, and ETSU all brought fair profiles to the table.  Given the bubble was not strong, it seems bizarre that both play-in games get lofted to the 11 line.  I originally had them on the 12/13 lines.  As the conference tourneys shook out, it was clear that at least one game would move up to the 11 slot for balance. Let’s just say the last bucket of at-large candidates, Xavier, Wake, KSU, Marquette, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Providence, USC, and Illinois St (fuck it, Syracuse), al profiled worse than MTSU, all except Vandy profiled worse than Nevada, and UNCW also jumped ahead of most of these teams.  When we project the bracket, we take certain rules and assumptions into account, and one of those is that regardless of conference affiliation, the next best team gets the next highest slot until there is a conflict.  In this case, it appears the committee through all that out the window and lumped all one-bids into the lowest seed leper colonies.  This really does a disservice to the higher seeds, as MTSU and Little Rock either showed how overrated the Big Ten was last year, or how poorly managed the seeding process was for the lower seeds.  By the way, I chose Andy Enfield as my coach of the year, but they finished lower in my ranking than every team listed in the two categories above, making them clearly a 13 seed if they were selected.  Not saying they couldn’t get in, but if they did make it, they belonged with Providence or KSU on the 12/13 line.  Instead, the 5 seed gets a much tougher matchup than the 6 seed.

12 SEEDS: 16 points
ME: Xavier, UNC Wilmington, Princeton, Wake Forest, Kansas State
FIELD: UNC Wilmington, Princeton, Middle Tennessee State, Nevada

Analysis: I had UNCW forward on the 10/11 line for a while, but reality set in and they were easily passed by Nevada.  I had Nevada as the 12 West and Xavier on the 11 and switched them as the last thing I did before submitting, as Nevada was going to have a huge proximity advantage in the West pod and region.  Politics reigned.  I cannot conceive a scenario that had MTSU coming out of the single digit seeds, but his proves they were not even in the running for an at-large bid had they lost.  Princeton dodges several bullets to get to the dance, likely seeded correctly.

13 SEEDS: 17 points
ME: Vermont, East Tennessee State, New Mexico State, Bucknell
FIELD: Vermont, East Tennessee State, Bucknell, Winthrop

Analysis: No beef.  I thought FGCU had a better chance of moving up than Winthrop, but the WAC was pretty weak.  NMSU is fairly assessed.

14 SEEDS: 14 points
ME: Florida Gulf Coast, Northern Kentucky, Iona, Winthrop
FIELD: Florida Gulf Coast, Kent State, Iona, New Mexico State

Analysis: Iona’s RPI jumped a long ways during their run, and I never properly accounted for that.  So did Northern Kentucky, but they got buried behind a pedestrian Kent team that may have been closer to the 16 line than the 14 line.  This is more historical bias believing that the MAC was actually relevant this year.  I do like where NKY ended up.

15 SEEDS: 14 points
ME: NC Central, Kent, North Dakota, Troy
FIELD: North Dakota, Troy, Northern Kentucky, Jacksonville State

Analysis: Kentucky/Northern Kentucky… chances the Wildcats are looking ahead to the Shockers and UCLA?  100%.  Troy and Texas State both profiled to the same spot on the seed line, so that was no big deal.  NC Central’s metrics play much better than their RPI.  I watched them really tax Ohio State earlier in the season.  They can play and may have screwed a sleepy 2 seed.

16 SEEDS: 27 points
ME: Texas Southern, Jacksonville State, South Dakota State, Mount Saint Mary’s, Davis, New Orleans
FIELD: Those guys, but NC Central instead of JAXST


Analysis: It’s easy to find the weak sisters on the S-curve.  The committee is just a little lazier and dropped a significantly more talented Central team into the 68th slot based on RPI, rather than looking at the results on the floor.  By the way, the ONE GUY that could have ruined Gonzaga’s opening weekend will face them in the first game.  Mike Daum has the full package and can spread them out.  He doesn’t have much help, and the Zags are deep, but don’t sleep on the Jacks.

Monday, March 13, 2017

5-8 seeds, more analysis

5 SEEDS: 8 points
ME: Notre Dame, Wichita State, Butler, Iowa State
FIELD: Notre Dame, Iowa State, Virginia, Minnesota

Analysis: Iowa State and Notre Dame played their way up last week.  Virginia certainly has slumped the last month, but the advanced metrics say they are much closer to top seed performance than where I had them (6).  Minnesota is a slight reach here, but acceptable based on their finish.  The Shockers just opened as a 6 point favorite despite getting the 10 seed shaft and that is already surging upwards, which shows what the public thought of that decision.  Has a 10 seed ever been a 6-7 point favorite before.  This was just reckless and irresponsible and the Kentucky boosters will not let them forget it if it derails them

6 SEEDS: 8 points
ME: Cincinnati, Virginia, Wisconsin, Minnesota
FIELD: Cincinnati, Southern Methodist, Creighton, Maryland

Analysis: Cinci was good.  The Jays made a passionate run late, but really don’t have the weapons for a second weekend run.  The committee did pit Dana Altman against his former club if they even survive that long.  The problem I have is that I actually watch the games.  Maryland has not been very good this year.  They are the poster child for an overrated Big 10.  Turgeon would be on the hot seat if not for miracle wins over American, Georgetown, Richmond, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, and Michigan State. 12 loss team in disguise here, and not sure what alternate reality they are 2 lines better than Wisconsin, though wounded Xavier may be a fair matchup.

7 SEEDS: 7 points
ME: Virginia Commonwealth, Saint Mary’s, Michigan, Creighton
FIELD: Saint Mary’s, Michigan, Dayton, South Carolina

Analysis: Given how far the committee dumped Wichita State, it’s amazing they let the Gaels hang on this despite getting swept by Gonzaga 3-0.  They must have a very high opinion of the Zags.  Michigan played their way up to this line, because as of 2 weeks ago, they were barely in at all.  I had Dayton on the 7 line until the Davidson loss, dropping them behind VCU in the A-10 pecking order.  South Carolina has not been the same since their 4OT loss to Alabama at home.  2 of their 3 wins were against MSU, who is not playing any postseason basketball.  As much as I love Sin-D, the Cocks look more like a 9-10 seed across the board, weaker than other SEC fodder Arkansas and Vanderbilt.

8 SEEDS: 1 point
ME: Arkansas, Middle Tennessee State, Dayton, Oklahoma State
FIELD: Arkansas, Wisconsin, Miami, Northwestern

Analysis: So far, the committee had been pretty solid, but here is where things begin to get a little wacky.  If Northwestern was really this safe as an 8 seed, why was the Michigan game so critical? And how do they get on the same line as Wisconsin, a team that out played them all season, and recently clobbered them on a neutral floor.  The Badgers hit a slump, but nothing more severe than NW.  These teams are 4 lines apart.  Miami snuck into this spot.  I was holding them as a 9 and VT as a 10 until the final numbers came out.  Arkansas has been cruising the 8/9 line since recovering from the Missouri loss.


Sunday, March 12, 2017

Top 4 scoring and analysis

5 points for a hit, 2 points for 1 line miss, -1 for 2 line miss, -4 for 3 line or more miss, -5 for missing the field

1 SEEDS: 20 points
ME: Villanova, Gonzaga, Kansas, North Carolina
FIELD: Villanova, Gonzaga, Kansas, North Carolina

Analysis: Nailed it, lets move on.

2 SEEDS: 14 points
ME: Oregon, Kentucky, Duke, Florida State
FIELD: Arizona, Kentucky, Duke, Louisville

Analysis: I guess the 3 point victory yesterday outweighed the 27 point loss (that was not that close) earlier in the season.  No matter how you slice it, Oregon is superior.  My only rationalization is that the Cats had to run deeper into the season without Trier than Oregon did without Brooks.  Cardinals were a dead heat with the Seminoles the whole second half, but nose them out in most metrics (RPI, KenPom, Sagarin).  I had FSU way ahead in quality of win.  Neither team was good away from home.

3 SEEDS: 11 points
ME: West Virginia, Arizona, Baylor, Louisville
FIELD: Oregon, Baylor, Florida State, UCLA

Analysis: Not sure what to make of Baylor anymore. End of season slump makes hot, fortuitous Nov/Dec seem like ancient history.  Big 12 is a beast, but which team give coaches nightmares: Baylor or WVU?  Mountaineers could never live up to their advanced metrics, but are still more than capable of making a deep run.

4 SEEDS: 11 points
ME: UCLA, Purdue, Florida, Southern Methodist
FIELD: Purdue, Florida, West Virginia, Butler


Analysis: Committee missed big here, but part of it is justifiable. AAC is not a deep conference and should not be feeling their conference championship game participants are locked into the field, let alone their line.  I think this is a case where they saw 2 teams that split their games, but ignored the actual results (SMU dominated 2 and nearly stole the 3rd.  I bumped Butler to the 5 assuming SMU’s Sunday result would count.  It did not.  Butler did earn their keep here.

Final Bracket Projections- SUNDAY



Rapid Breakdown

1 SEEDS:
Villanova, Gonzaga, Kansas, North Carolina

2 SEEDS:
Oregon, Kentucky, Duke, Florida State

3 SEEDS:
West Virginia, Arizona, Baylor, Louisville

4 SEEDS:
UCLA, Purdue, Florida, Southern Methodist

5 SEEDS:
Notre Dame, Wichita State, Butler, Iowa State

6 SEEDS:
Cincinnati, Virginia, Wisconsin, Minnesota

7 SEEDS:
Virginia Commonwealth, Saint Mary’s, Michigan, Creighton

8 SEEDS:
Arkansas, Middle Tennessee State, Dayton, Oklahoma State

9 SEEDS:
Vanderbilt, Maryland, Virginia Tech, Marquette

10 SEEDS:
Rhode Island, Miami, South Carolina, Michigan State

11 SEEDS:
Seton Hall, Nevada, Northwestern, Providence, Illinois State

12 SEEDS:
Xavier, UNC Wilmington, Princeton, Wake Forest, Kansas State

13 SEEDS:
Vermont, East Tennessee State, New Mexico State, Bucknell

14 SEEDS:
Florida Gulf Coast, Northern Kentucky, Iona, Winthrop

15 SEEDS:
NC Central, Kent, North Dakota, Texas State/Troy

16 SEEDS:
Texas Southern, Jacksonville State, South Dakota State, Mount Saint Mary’s, Davis, New Orleans

WEAKEST FOUR AT-LARGE BY RATING
Providence, Illinois State, Seton Hall, Rhode Island

LAST FOUR IN:
Providence, Kansas State, Wake Forest, Illinois State

BREATHING EASIER NOW THAT THE CARNAGE IS OVER:
Xavier, Seton Hall, Michigan State, Northwestern

FIRST FOUR OUT
USC, Syracuse, Monmouth, Houston

NEXT FOUR OUT
Iowa, California, UT Arlington, BYU

SOME TEAMS THAT PLAYED GAMES
Utah, Clemson, Charleston, Indiana