Gregg Berhalter’s 1st Game Reviewed

The day has finally arrived! After over a year of waiting the new, permanent USMNT head coach took charge of his first game. The Yanks played Panama in Glendale, Arizona on Sunday night where both teams were sporting B/C teams (At best both teams were only playing 2 starters).

Before we start, here are a few reasons this performance should be taken with a grain of salt: 1. These are not the most talented players in the US pool. 2. Most of these players are learning a new system 3. Few of these guys have played together for club or country (5 players made their debuts on Sunday night), 4. All of these guys are in preseason form, and 5. Panama played like trash. With that said, here are my notes from the game:

They looked like Columbus defensively, and that worked pretty well. That is, in defense, the team fell into a 4-4-2 with Djorde Mihailovic joining Zardes on that “2” line. Panama wasn’t much of a threat going forward so stopping them was not a hard test. Nonetheless, it is good that the US passed that test.

Offensively, the shape varied from Columbus. In Columbus, Trapp and Artur shared the responsibilities of a box-to-box midfielder and a defensive midfielder as they sat behind Higuain who was the pure creative midfielder. This was in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Trapp and Artur on the “2” line and Higuain at the center of the “3” line. For the US on Sunday, Bradley played as a pure defensive midfielder behind Mihailovic and Roldan who shared the responsibilities of a box-to-box midfielder and creative midfielder.  This created more of a 4-1-4-1 with Bradley as the “1” between the “4” lines and Roldan and Mihailovic as the two in the center of the midfield “4” line. This makes sense as Bradley is a more complete defensive midfielder than any player in camp was a creative midfielder.  Here’s some figures to demonstrate:

Columbus’ 4-2-3-1 (2018 roster names)

Steffen

Afful – Mensah – Abubakar – Valenzuela

Artur – Trapp

Santos – Higuain – Meram

Zardes

USMNT’s 4-1-4-1

Steffen

Lima – Zimmerman – Long – Lovitz

Bradley

Baird – Roldan – Mihailovic – Ebobisse

Zardes

Then in defense Mihailovic would join Zardes up top and Bradley would fill his spot of the “4” line to create a 4-4-2 block.

The offense was creating plenty of chances, but wasn’t putting them in the back of the net. In the first half the US created 8 solid scoring chances and only scored on one of them. The second half had another half dozen unfinished chances. Again, see the above caveats. Offense takes a lot of chemistry so I think that.

Michael Bradley had some nice line-splitting passes, and covered ground pretty well. In my opinion he’s a better passer than any other defensive midfielder in the player pool. Canouse and Adams are slightly better than him defensively, but Bradley’s endurance is starting to drop. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I think Bradley should either be getting subbed-on, or subbed-off for any of his appearances. Use the other minutes at that position to groom his replacement. Berhalter did sub Bradley off for the last 7ish mins and brought on Trapp. I would have preferred Canouse but I won’t cry over a late sub in a friendly.

I appreciate that Long was the captain, not Bradley. First it’s a really bad look to give Bradley the armband; it says “this is more of the same” which is not the branding US Soccer is going for. Second, it would also look bad if Berhalter gives the arm band to any of his Columbus boys. Third, Long has an incredible soccer story going from 2016 USL Defender of the Year to 2018 MLS Defender of the Year in 2 years. I’m sure his journey has humbled him, and that he’ll never let his personality get in the way of the team.

The fullbacks got involved. Berhalter want’s his fullbacks to play as pseudo-central-midfielders/distributors. Very few teams in MLS use the fullback position in this way and its why Columbus’ fullbacks (Afful, and Valenzuela) are some of the best in the league. Lovitz and Lima both played that role well, Lima better than Lovitz.

Steffen was better than Johnson, but to be fair to Johnson it’s weird for a ‘keeper to get subbed on in the 75th minute. And Johnson had some nice distribution and didn’t let in any goals so he wasn’t terrible.

Ramirez put away the one opportunity that he got and had a nice turn-and-pass to Lletgett, meanwhile Zardes didn’t put away 5 or so chances he had. I think Ramirez is now officially higher on my striker depth chart than Zardes. But since Zardes knows Berhalter’s system well I wouldn’t be surprised if he keeps getting call-ups.

The wingers all looked more like Ethan Finaly, not Justin Meram (Finaly and Meram were Columbus’ wingers in 2015). Ebobisse, Baird, and Lewis played well. Arriola didn’t do much in his cameo. All of them stretched the field, finding that inside lane wherein Berhalter want’s his wingers to operate (Watch a 2015 Ethan Finaly highlight reel and you’ll see what I mean by “inside lane”, it right on the edge of the 18-yard-box). But rarely did any of them cut inside to create with the central midfielders like Meram would do for Columbus. Perhaps that is more due to a lack of space since there were two “attacking” midfielders (Mihailovic and Roldan) rather than one.

Both centerbacks were solid. Zimmerman had better passing but I think Long was stronger defensively. I wouldn’t be surprised if Berhalter goes with similar pairings going forward. That is, I wouldn’t be surprised if he chose one CB who’s a better passer and one who’s a better defender. However it was concerning how many passes we turned over in our own half. Perhaps that is due to having only Bradley in front of the defense rather than two players.

I’m low key in love with Djorde Mihailovic. Not only was his goal a welcome relief after a shaky start to the game, but he looked threatening in the final third all game. I hope the Chicago Fire play him higher up the field this season.

Roldan had a solid performance but I think he would have operated better deeper in the midfield, next to Bradley. Perhaps if Berhalter can find a creative midfielder capable of holding the load on their own than Roldan can slide back next to Bradley.

I look forward to see how this group performs against a sterner test next week against Costa Rica! Check back for more analysis then!

Sidenote: The stadium was practically empty (like 6,000 people in a 60,000 plus person stadium). There were complaints of expensive tickets (the cheapest tickets were $32, up in the nosebleeds). If I recall correctly, US Soccer talked about raising USMNT ticket prices last year in order to help raise funds for academies across the country making them cheaper for players (I have a distinct memory of this but cannot find the source so don’t quote me). In theory, this makes a lot of sense; take money from the people who are willing to spend it and use it to subsidize those that can’t afford to play the game. In practice, it means the USMNT plays in front of smaller crowds, which also probably means less revenue. This also does not bode well for the MLS Expansion hopeful in Phoenix, Arizona. It’s is worth noting that their USL stadium only seats 5,000 … perhaps that has something to do with the low attendance on Sunday. We’ll see what Saturday brings against Costa Rica in San Jose (19,000 capacity Avaya Stadium).

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Profiling MLS Training Facilities

Continuing with my exploration of how MLS teams stack up against one another off-field, this piece is examining where each team spends most of its time: their training facilities. This is where teams practice the week and prepare for each game. Similar to my stadium article, I am going to group these training facilities into a loose ranking by tiers. For each training facility I include the “Name of Facility (Team) – Year it’s been in use by that team and how much it cost to build the facility or if it is leased”

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground (Atlanta United) – 2017

Estimated total investment: $60 Million

From Atlanta’s Website: “a 33-acre site featuring a 30,000 square- foot headquarter building and six full-size fields including three natural grass and three FieldTurf surfaces.

Additional highlights of the training ground include:

First team locker room with 22-foot ceilings and 14 elevated windows
Six Academy Locker Rooms
Full service kitchen and dining room with balcony access
Show pitch featuring a 2,500-seat stand and separate Pavilion for viewing
Sport science facilities including double height gym and two hydrotherapy plunge pools
Entrance artwork created by renowned South African artist Marco Cianfanelli”.

CIBC Fire Pitch (Chicago Fire) – 2015

Estimated total investment: $20 Million

From Chicago’s Website: “On Dec. 8, 2015, Chicago Fire Soccer Club Owner and Chairman Andrew Hauptman joined with team supporters, partners and city officials to officially open CIBC Fire Pitch (formerly The PrivateBank Fire Pitch), located adjacent to the Chicago River at Addison and Talman on the city’s northwest side. The 125,000-square-foot complex is the city’s premiere facility for year-round soccer and is open to the public and soccer players from across the region. The $20 million project features both indoor and outdoor fields, serves as an indoor practice site for the Chicago Fire Soccer Club first team and houses games for youth and adult recreational leagues”.

Obetz Practice Facility (Columbus Crew) – 1997

Estimated total investment: Leased

The Crew’s website doesn’t have a page describing their training facility. From what I gather, they practice in Obetz, Ohio at the EAS Training Center. There are two grass fields, a locker room, some offices, and a weight room. They do not own the land they play on and their lease runs out at the end of 2018. Rumor has it that the new Crew ownership wish to turn MAPFRE Stadium into the team’s training grounds once a new downtown stadium is built.

Dick’s Sporting Goods Park Complex (Colorado Rapids) – 2007

Estimated total investment: $130 million (Stadium included)

From Colorado’s Website: “consists of 24 full-size, fully-lit sports fields, including 22 natural grass and 2 synthetic turf fields” and it looks like they also have indoor meeting spaces as well”.

Loudon County Training Facility (DC United) – 2019-2020

Estimated total investment: The land costs $23 Million, the town is set to pay for $15 million in infrastructure but that’s mostly going to roads, parking lots etc. So with no official number we’re looking at something like $40+ Million (Pure conjecture, don’t quote me on that).

DC currently practice at some Auxiliary fields near RFK, but have plans to create a training facility in Northern Virginia where their new USL team will also play.

From Soccer Stadium Digest: “The project is slated for Philip A. Bolen Memorial Park, which would become the site of a complex that includes a stadium for Loudoun United FC–a new United USL club that has been announced as a 2019 expansion team. Along with four fields (two reserved for the team, two open to public use), the complex would include offices, a training facility, and a modular stadium with a capacity of 5,000 seats. As part of the plan, Loudoun County would lease the land to D.C. United and provide $15 million in financing on the facility, which would be paid back by United”.

Mercer Health Training Facility (FC Cincinnati) – 2019

Estimated total investment: $30 Million

From Cincinnati’s website: “the $30 million, 24-acre facility will include three full-size, lighted soccer fields – including two stabilized natural grass surfaces and one synthetic turf surface – as well as a goalkeeper-specific training area.

The MLS team will be housed in a 30,000 sq. ft., multilevel building abutting the fields, while the FCC Academy teams will utilize a separate 4,000 sq. ft. wing of the building. Additionally, there will be a 3,000 sq. ft. maintenance facility on the property”.

Toyota Soccer Center (FC Dallas) – 2005

Estimated total investment: $39 Million

From Dallas’ website: “Toyota Stadium also includes seventeen regulation sized soccer fields known as the Toyota Soccer Center which are utilized year-round on a daily basis”.

Houston Sports Park (Houston Dynamo) – 2011

Estimated total investment – Leased

From Houston’s website: “the permanent home and professional training center for the Dynamo first team and youth academy. The multi-field soccer facility is located off State Highway 288, approximately 10 miles south of the Dynamo’s new downtown stadium site … includes seven soccer fields, field lights, and parking”.

StubHub Center (Los Angeles Galaxy) – 2003

Estimated total investment – $150 Million (Stadium included)

From the StubHub Center website: “StubHub Center, home of the LA Galaxy … Managed by AEG Facilities, the $150 million, privately financed facility was developed by AEG on a 125-acre site on the campus of California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) in Carson, California. StubHub Center features an 8,000-seat tennis stadium, a 30,000-seat stadium for soccer, football and other athletic competitions and outdoor concerts; a 2,000-seat facility for track & field and a 2,450-seat indoor Velodrome – the VELO Sports Center – for track cycling. StubHub Center is home to Major League Soccer’s LA Galaxy, the five-time MLS Cup Champions. StubHub Center is also home to the United States Tennis Association’s (USTA) High-Performance Training Center, the national team training headquarters for the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) and EXOS, an international training center for elite and professional athletes”.

LAFC Training Facility (Los Angeles FC) – 2018

Estimated total investment: $30 Million

From Angels on Parade’s website: “The $30 million facility, which includes offices, training facilities, hydrotheraphy tubs and a lush field that matches the team’s grass at Banc of California Stadium, will be their permanent training home after playing at UCLA while construction was being completed.

In addition to the first team, LAFC’s academy will also be housed at the facility. The academy has been training at Cal State LA since its establishment in 2016″.

National Sports Center (Minnesota United) – 2017

Estimated total investment: Leased

Minnesota currently use the National Sports Center as their training facility and have plans to renovate part of it. From fiftyfiveone’s website: “there would be no physical build-out. Instead, the lower southeast corner of the Sports Hall,  a 10,000 sq. ft. area, would be totally renovated specifically for the team’s use. The remodel of the facility will also include a player lounge, new exercise equipment, weight rooms, an office, and a rehab/trainers area”. Strangely enough, this is the only one I’ve personally been to.

Centre Nutrilait (Montreal Impact) – 2016

Estimated total investment: $16 Million

From Montreal’s website: 2 grass fields, 2 turf fields, locker rooms, class/conference rooms, weight rooms, “relaxation rooms”, etc.

Red Bulls Training Facility (New York Red Bulls) – 2013

Estimated total investment: $6 Million (doesn’t include 2 additions made since 2013).

From New York’s website: “The 15-acre center features [four] fields – [three] grass, one turf … includes a lounge area, cafeteria, fully-loaded gym, locker rooms for both the Red Bulls and a visiting team, and offices for members of the coaching staff and front office. Additionally, one of the grass fields (the center field) has a heating system underneath it that allows the club to train even when it snows” (one grass field was added in 2017).

Etihad City Football Academy (New York City FC) – 2018

Estimated total investment: Truly can’t find anything, if I had to guess, I’d say $30 Million (Pure conjecture, don’t quote me on that).

From NYCFC’s website: “Performance areas include: post-exercise aquatic recovery area, gym, boot room, massage and medical treatment rooms, team meeting room, kit storage, laundry, showers and restrooms. The gym has been designed to be big enough to accommodate a full team pre-activation … The soccer pitch is usable all year-round due to undersoil heating capability. The pitch also includes a state-of-the-art camera analysis system that is used to record every training session and inform the coaches’ data analysis of player performance”.

Unnamed Facility (New England Revolution) – 2019

Estimated total investment: $35 Million

From MLSsoccer.com: “A first team and academy training facility on the broader Gillette Stadium property. Situated in the woods and adjacent to several wetlands, the Revs’ 30,000 foot-plus complex will cost $35 million and feature four fields – including a grass pitch the first team already utilizes”.

Osceola Heritage Park (Orlando City SC) – 2019

Estimated total investment: $12 million

From Orlando’s website: “20 acres, featuring four full-size grass fields, a fitness, training and recovery center, a film review room along with a players’ lounge and dining area. Two main locker rooms for City and Pride will be designed to be near replicas of the home locker room at Orlando City Stadium, helping players transition seamlessly from one home to the other. Additionally, the secured facility will have 30,000 square feet of office space for working staff and facilities to support media operations”. Until the opening of the facility, Orlando will continue to train at a leased facility.

Power Training Complex (Philadelphia Union) – 2016

Estimated total investment: Truly can’t find anything. If I had to guess I’d say $10 Million at most. (Pure conjecture, don’t quote me on that).

From the Union’s website: “… include[s] two regulation sized training fields of Bermuda grass and a state-of-the-art indoor facility … adjacent Talen Energy Stadium … The 16,500 square foot indoor facility includes a weight training area, physical therapy and sports science development area, nutrition center, locker rooms, state of the art video theatre and a players’ lounge. The Power Training Complex also houses the offices for Philadelphia Union coaches and support staff”.

adidas Timbers Training Facility (Portland Timbers) – 2012?

Estimated total investment: $6 Million

From Portland’s website: “The training center, located … approximately 10 minutes from Providence Park, includes a new natural-grass field … and a synthetic, FieldTurf field designated for public use … features a 6,000-square-foot indoor facility that includes locker rooms for the Timbers first team and development teams, fully equipped training and fitness areas, offices and a spacious lounge/common area for Timbers players.

Zion Bank Real Academy (Real Salt Lake) – 2017

Estimated total investment: $60 Million

From RSL’s website: “Located on a 132-acre plot … just 20 minutes west of Rio Tinto Stadium … also includes the 5,000-seat Zions Bank Stadium, home of the USL Real Monarchs … amenities include a total of 10 fields including the Stadium, with one each for … public use and a total of seven (7) regulation-size training fields. Four of the fields will be natural grass and outdoor, with the remaining three fields utilizing a state-of-the-art artificial surface … Two of the artificial fields will be housed in the Zions Bank Training Center‘s iconic 208,000 sq-ft. indoor structure, the largest pre-engineered freespan building in North America. Atop this building will be a solar panel array from Utah’s own Auric Solar, at roughly half the size of its Rio Tinto Stadium installation” and a high school for their academy players to attend.

Nutrilite Training Facility (San Jose Earthquakes) – 2010

Estimated total investment: “over $1 million”

From MLSsoccer.com: Built on the same site Avaya Stadium would later be built. “The Nutrilite Training Facility took four months to complete … It … is 72-yards x 115-yards. The square footage of the entire facility is 85-yards x 140-yards, including an area behind the goal for warming up and goalkeeper drills”. The above is from 2010 when the facility was first opened. It also says there is room to expand for more fields. A quick google maps search confirms that and that they have not added extra practice fields since 2010.

Starfire Sports (Seattle Sounders) – 2005 (since before they were in MLS)

Estimated total investment: Leased

From Seattle’s website: ” 54-acres of soccer heaven. The campus features twelve outdoor soccer fields, a 4,000-spectator capacity stadium, and an 85,000 square foot Athletic Center housing two premier indoor fields, locker rooms, restaurants, retail and athletic training” 13 fields, 8 of which are turf.

Pinnacle National Development Center (Sporting Kansas City) – 2018

Estimated total investment: $75 Million

From Pinnacle’s website: 5 soccer fields, three grass, two turf; A sports performance office including neuropsychology office, hyperbaric chambers, recovery room, massage suite and more; 12,870 square feet gym/workout room; a coaching education center; event spaces such as conference rooms, banquet halls, etc.

BMO Training Ground (Toronto FC) – 2012

Estimated total investment: $21 Million

From Toronto’s website: “14 Acres of land … BMO training ground represents a $21 Million investment made by Toronto FC and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment … includes three full size grass fields (two heated), four artificial fields, including two with air-supported bubbles for year-round use, and a 40,000 square foot field house that has locker rooms, training facilities and team offices. There is also a physiotherapy and rehabilitation area, private and cafeteria-style dining, and a video presentation centre”.

Whitecaps FC National Soccer Development Center (Vancouver Whitecaps FC) – 2017

Estimated total investment: $32.5 Million

From Vancouver’s website: “features a three-storey, 38,000 square feet state-of-the-art fieldhouse … five (three grass and two artificial turf fields) constructed, refurbished, and improved fields …The fieldhouse offers a number of exciting features including:

Two-story weight room with glass windows on one end and a fully-mirrored wall on the other, creating a stunning, panoramic view of the new grass fields and surrounding mountains.
Players’ lounge
Kitchen with individualized nutritional options for each player
A hydrotherapy-equipped sports science wing
A branch dedicated for UBC use
A specific entrance and workspace for media”.

Check out the rest of my series Profiling MLS Teams 2018

Profiling MLS Teams Off-of-the-Field in 2018

This has been a personal interest of mine for awhile. This whole project is kind of like an almanac of the structures of MLS clubs. What I am interested in is how current MLS teams stack-up against one another in some off-of-the-field categories. I have to credit Brian Strauss for his incredible reporting on the MLS Expansion hopefuls that inspired me to do something similar for teams already in the league. His article talks much more about ownership groups than I would like to go into but that’s necessary when half of these clubs don’t exist yet.

I’ve written four articles on the four off-field areas that I think are the biggest investments teams make. Those four areas are: Stadiums, Training Facilities, Academies/Reserve Teams, and First Team Roster Construction. Each article more so groups publicly available information into a single space. I believe I have gone as in-depth as I can without actually going out and interviewing club officials. Here I will summarize my over-arching findings and link the other articles which go into more depth.

Quick disclaimer: a lot of this information was difficult to find. There are certain numbers I could not find e.g. how much NYCFC spent on their training facility, or how much Barcelona bought Tabla from Montreal for. If you see any errors, by all means leave a comment and I will gladly look into it.

1. Training Facilities

By Training Facilities, I am referring to the the fields, locker rooms, and buildings where the team practices. These size, and complexity of these facilities varies widely. 6 teams (DC, Columbus, Seattle, Orlando, Minnesota, and Houston) lease their fields from a local park/facility/stadium. New England used New England Patriots practice fields. 3 teams (New York, Portland, and San Jose) spent $10 million or less on their training facilities. 2 teams (Montreal, and Chicago) spent between $10-$20 million on their training facilities. 3 teams (Cincinnati, LAFC, and Toronto) spent between $20-$30 million on their training facilities. 2 teams (Vancouver, and Dallas) spent between $30-$40 million on their training facilities. 0 teams spent between $40-$50 million on their training facilities. 3 teams (RSL, SKC, and Atlanta) spent over $50 million on their training facilities. 2 teams (LA Galaxy, Colorado) built their training facilities in conjunction with their stadiums, i.e. their training facility and stadium are in the same complex. There are 2 teams (NYCFC, and Philadelphia) where it is unclear how much they spent.

10 of these MLS training facilities were built within the last 5 years. DC, Orlando, and New England have plans to build new training facilities within the next few years. Columbus plans on converting their current stadium into a training facility once their new stadium is built.

2. Academies/Reserve Teams

Overall, all MLS academies have produced 188 Homegrown players signed to first team contracts. In total, 21 of those players were sold/traded onto another club (including trades within MLS). Of the sales we know the value of (6/21) all of these players have been sold for a collective $26. 5 (Alphonso Davies is almost half of that number; does not include players sold for an “undisclosed fee” such as Ballou-Tabla). 7 Homegrown players were sold for an undisclosed fee. The 8 other Homegrown players who were dealt by their club were traded within MLS for either other players, allocation money, and/or an international spot

10 MLS clubs operate a “2 Team” in USL, meaning the USL team is dirctly controlled by the MLS team, ala New York Red Bulls and New York red Bulls II. 9 MLS teams are affiliated with an USL team, meaning the MLS team does not directly operate the USL team but the two are partnered with one another ala the Chicago Fire’s relationship with the Tulsa Roughnecks. 4 MLS teams did not have any USL affiliated club in 2018. Cincinnati played in USL last year and will join MLS this year.

6 MLS teams have a U-23 team. U-23 teams play in a semi-pro league which allows college players to learn the club’s system in the summer, while they are not playing in college. No huge names have come from MLS U-23 teams but having one shows a commitment to developing talent at all levels.

Most teams have academy teams between the ages of U-12 to U-19. Minnesota and LAFC don’t go as high as U-19 because their academies are new. Montreal have the youngest teams at U-8(!), and interestingly, RSL, Seattle, and Vancouver only have U-15 through U-19. I find the last note interesting because RSL, Seattle, and Vancouver have three of the more productive academies in MLS despite having fewer academy teams. Perhaps a case of quality over quantity.

3. Stadiums

Here are some averages/medians on the stadiums across the league:

Avg. Construction Cost -$141.67 million (only including stadiums built by MLS teams)

Capacity (using reduced capacities for larger stadiums) – 20,973 (Median) 23,585 (Average)

2018 Avg. Attendance – 19,384 (Median), 21,852 (Average, like an Average of a the teams’ averages)

% Capacity Full – 92.4% (Median), 92.6% (Average)

Home Field Advantage (based on record at home over the last 3 years) – 1.87 ppg

17/23 Soccer Specific Stadiums, and 17/23 on Grass (not the same 17 for both)

In terms of Capacity and Attendance, considering the outliers in this data (Seattle and Atlanta), the median numbers are more representative of the league as a whole. Seattle and Atlanta definitely set the standard for the league in terms of attendance. They do play on turf, but the pros outweigh the cons here. As of right now, a realistic goal/expectation for every other MLS team would be to almost sell out or totally sell out a soccer-specific stadium that has a capacity of 20,000-25,000. Currently, Portland, Sporting Kansas City, LAFC, LA Galaxy, Toronto FC and Orlando City already do that. In my article I bumped Orlando City and LA Galaxy down a tier for having low Home Field Advantages.

It’s really cool to see that most teams play in a soccer-specific stadium as that has not always been the case. There are teams that are in need of some upgrades such as Chicago, New England, NYCFC, Dallas, Colorado, and infamously Columbus. Chicago, Dallas, and Columbus need a stadium relocation. New England and NYCFC need to be in soccer specific stadiums. I’m not sure what Colorado needs. Perhaps a downtown stadium would boost attendance, but so might a higher quality of play on the field.

Every other team lies somewhere in the middle. You’ll have to check out my article to find out more!

4. First Team Roster Construction

Here are how I categorized where/how teams signed each player on their team. The rosters were as of the Fall Roster Freeze date (September 14th, 2018).

  1. Overseas – These are players signed from overseas. On my spreadsheet I noted what country they last played in, not necessarily what country they are originally from. Like Zlatan came to MLS from the Premiere League, not Sweden.
  2. Academy – these are players who, at some point, signed a homegrown contract for their club, meaning they played in the club’s academy for at least one year. If a homegrown player was traded, I counted that as a “Trade” for the current team they are on.
  3. Trade – Players who came from another team within the league. Doesn’t matter what was exchanged for them (draft picks, another player, allocation money, etc.)
  4. Super Draft – these are players who were drafted into the league after playing college. The draft has become less important as academies have become more prominent, but there are still some gems in there.
  5. Lower Leagues – these are players who came from a team in the United States that is not MLS. Most of them come from USL. An academy player who played on a USL team still counts as an academy player, like Tyler Adams on the New York Red Bulls.
  6. MLS Scrap Heap – Since MLS is single entity, there are some weird mechanisms used to pick up players who still have contracts with the league, but are no longer playing for their team. These include waivers, the Re-entry Draft, the Expansion Draft, and Free Agency. I used this umbrella term to encompass all of these. I also included trialists under this umbrella as well. These are players that any MLS team could have signed, which is what makes them significantly different from trades.

As you can imagine, this is a lot of information. I wont post my entire spreadsheet here (all of this information is publicly available on mlssoccer.com)

I also included how much each team spent on their roster 

The Average 2018 MLS Team

Overseas – 11, Academy – 4, Trade – 4.5,  Super Draft – 4, Lower Leagues – 2.5, MLS Scrap Heap – 2

Money Spent – $11.12 Million

Notes: I made this average in order to know where teams are relative to the rest of the league. I do not have the numbers to support this, but I would wager that over the last 5 years the number of overseas, and academy signings have increased while the number of Super Draft and Scrap Heap signings has decreased. Those players who would have bounced around the bottom of MLS rosters are now filling out the lower league rosters. While the MLS Scrap Heap and the Super Draft have become less prominent, there are still gems in both (Maxi Urutti on Dallas, Jeff Lawrenowitz on Atlanta, to name a few). I would also expect the number of academy and lower league signings to increase over the next five years. I would hope that the number of overseas signings decreases, but I won’t be so bold as to claim that it definitely will.

The 2018 Average Playoff Team

Overseas – 11, Academy – 4, Trade – 4.5, Super Draft – 4, Lower Leagues – 3, MLS Scrap Heap – 2

Money Spent – $10.56 M

Notes: Slightly above average in Lower League players, and about $.5 M below average in salaries.

The 2018 Average Non-Playoff Team

Overseas – 11, Academy – 4, Trade – 5, Super Draft – 4, Lower Leagues – 2.5, MLS Scrap Heap – 2

Money Spent – $11.74 M

Notes: Slightly above average number of players traded for and about $.5 M above average in salaries.

So what were my takeaways from this exercise?

  1. Good teams tend to use more mechanisms
    1. Look at the two best teams in the league, Atlanta and New York. Atlanta has more overseas signings but New York has more Academy players. Atlanta has more Scrap Heap players but New York has more Lower League players. Both have their signings spread across many categories.
  2. How/Where you spend matters (duh)
    1. Colorado and DC both spend about $9.7 M on their salaries with one player making over $2 M. However, Colorado’s big name player is Tim Howard ($2.5 M), and DC’s is Wayne Rooney ($2.8 M). Just an interesting parallel as they ended in vastly different places in the standings.
    2. 2 of the top 5 spenders did not make the playoffs this year (Toronto, and Chicago). Same goes for 3 of the top 10 (add Montreal).
    3. 2 of the bottom 5 spenders did make the playoffs this year (New York Red Bulls, and Columbus).
    4. The bottom spender, Houston, won the US Open Cup.
    5. The average playoff team spent ~ $1.2 M *less* on their salaries than the average non-playoff team.
  3. If you’re going to rely on one mechanism it should be overseas signings
    1. NYCFC and Portland have 15 and 18 overseas signings, respectively, which is well above average. Both of them made the playoffs this year.
  4. It’s not the mechanism that matters, its how you use it
    1. Look at Dallas and New England who both have above the average number of Super Draft signings. Dallas get way more out of their Super Draft picks than New England does, finishing higher in the standings. Or Look at New York Red Bulls’ three Lower League players versus Sporting Kansas City’s three. The New York guys are starters or off-the-bench options when healthy. Meanwhile SKC’s have played a collective 65 minutes this season.
  5. We mainly scout players in Europe and Latin America (Neither is inherently better than the other)
    1. There are a total of 11 overseas signings from outside of Europe and Latin America (4 from China, 3 from Cameroon, 1 from South Africa, 1 from Tunisia, 1 from Australia, and 1 from Egypt). There are a total of 253 overseas signings. Of course, there is higher quality soccer played in Europe and Latin America than anywhere else in the world so it is partially warranted. However, MLS has room to grow in terms of international scouting.
  6. Draft heavy teams tend to be small market/low spending teams
    1. Here are the teams with more than 5 Draft picks on their roster and how much they spent on their player salaries in 2018: Chicago ($15.5 M), Columbus ($7.7 M), Dallas ($9.3 M), New England ($7.5 M), San Jose ($8.3 M), and Philadelphia ($8.9 M). Chicago stands out having spent much more than the rest of these teams. But, Schweinsteiger is 1/3 of their salary budget.
  7. “Money Ball” is possible, but difficult
    1. By “Money Ball” I mean outperforming your spending. Notice how many of the above “Draft heavy” teams made the playoffs this year (Dallas, Columbus, and Philadelphia). When teams scout the draft well and develop the players they draft they make the rest of their roster construction easier. It’s worth noting there are other “Money Ball” teams that don’t focus on the draft such as RSL, RBNY, and DC; these three teams are below average in spending. New England, Vancouver, and Houston are examples of low spenders who didn’t make the playoffs.
  8. Academy/Lower League players tend to raise a team’s floor.
    1. Here are the teams with more than 8 (average would be 6.5) combined Academy and Lower League players: New York, Dallas, Vancouver, Toronto, Seattle, RSL, and San Jose. San Jose really tanked this year, but all of these teams made the playoffs this year or last year (San Jose, Vancouver and Toronto made it in 2017).
  9. Having a high number of trades isn’t a good thing
    1. Here are the teams with more than 6 players acquired via trade: Orlando, Houston, DC, and Minnesota. If it were not for DC’s signing of Wayne Rooney, all of these teams would have missed the playoffs. I suppose that’s the nature of a trade though: it is more of a band-aid than a permanent solution.
  10. Teams with Low Overseas numbers
    1. Teams with under 10 overseas signings: Seattle, Philadelphia, LAFC, Chicago and DC. This is an interesting group of playoff teams (except Chicago). None of these teams were considered the best in the league this year, but they were all considered contenders. Even though teams with high Overseas numbers made the playoffs in 2018 (Portland, and NYCFC), there is not a direct correlation.

If you want more info, analysis on any of these categories click the headers at the top of each section!

 

Profiling MLS Roster Construction

I have always found it fascinating how MLS teams build their respective rosters. Especially over the last few years with MLS reserve teams integrating into the USL (America’s second division) and with more ways to break the salary cap like Targeted Allocation Money. I won’t get too into the weeds on official rules, but suffice it to say that there are many different ways to build a successful MLS team.

In order to study this, I looked at every MLS team’s roster at the end of the 2018 season, after the roster freeze deadline in September. I examined where teams found their players, creating a few labels to attach to players.

  1. Overseas – These are players signed from overseas. On my spreadsheet I noted what country they last played in, not necessarily what country they are originally from. Like Zlatan came from the Premiere League, not Sweden.
  2. Academy – these are players who, at some point, signed a homegrown contract for their club, meaning they played in the club’s academy for at least one year. If a homegrown player was traded, I counted that as a “Trade” for the current team they are on.
  3. Trade – Players who came from another team within the league. Doesn’t matter what was exchanged for them (draft picks, another player, allocation money, etc.)
  4. Super Draft – these are players who were drafted into the league after playing college. The draft has become less important as academies have become more prominent, but there are still some gems in there.
  5. Lower Leagues – these are players who came from a team in the United States that is not MLS. Most of them come from USL. An academy player who played on a USL team still counts as an academy player, like Tyler Adams on the New York Red Bulls.
  6. MLS Scrap Heap – Since MLS is single entity, there are some weird mechanisms used to pick up players who still have contracts with the league, but are no longer playing for their team. These include waivers, the re-entry draft, the expansion draft, and free agency. I included trialists under this umbrella as well. These are players that any MLS team could have signed, which is what makes them significantly different from trades.

As you can imagine, this is a lot of information. I wont post my entire spreadsheet here (all of this information is publicly available on mlssoccer.com) so I’ll summarize it from team to team and mention things I’ve noticed. At the end I’ll talk about trends among good and bad teams respectively.

I also included where each team finished in 2018, and how much they spent on their roster 

The Average MLS Team

Overseas – 11, Academy – 4, Trade – 4.5,  Super Draft – 4, Lower Leagues – 2.5, MLS Scrap Heap – 2

Money Spent – $11.12 Million (M)

Notes: I made this average in order to know where teams are relative to the rest of the league. I do not have the numbers to support this, but I would wager that over the last 5 years the number of overseas, and academy signings have increased while the number of Super Draft and Scrap Heap signings has decreased. While the MLS Scrap Heap and the Super Draft have become less prominent, there are still gems in both (Maxi Urutti on Dallas, Jeff Lawrenowitz on Atlanta, to name a few). I would also expect the number of academy and lower league signings to increase over the next five years. I would hope that the number of overseas signings decreases, but I won’t be so bold as to claim that it definitely will.

Atlanta United

Overseas – 12, Academy – 4, Trade – 4 Super Draft – 5, Lower Leagues – 1 MLS Scrap Heap – 4

Money Spent – $11.6 M

Notes: I’m glad this list starts with Atlanta as they are one of the best teams in the league. Like many other good teams, they use almost every mechanism at their disposal to find talented played. Four academy players is impressive for a team in its second year of existence. They also have a high MLS Scrap Heap number due to their recent Expansion Draft selections. Most notably, almost all of their overseas players came straight from a South/Central American leagues (9/12). Their Lower League number is understandably low as Atlanta United 2 only just started operation in 2018. Surprisingly close to average on spending, but big transfers for Almiron ($7 M) and Barco ($15 M) are not reflected in the salaries.

Chicago Fire

Overseas – 7, Academy – 3, Trade – 5, Super Draft – 8, Lower Leagues – 1, MLS Scrap Heap – 3

Money Spent – $15.5 M

Notes: Chicago has one of the highest Super Draft numbers of any team in the league. Chicago’s record this year reflects that. Chicago has one of the smaller Lower League numbers as they don’t often use their USL affiliate, Tulsa.  Also, Chicago’s oversea players mostly come from Europe (5/7). They haven’t started scouting South/Central America as much as the rest of the league. Also $6.1 M of their salary is Schweinsteiger. Take that away and they are below average in spending.

Colorado Rapids 

Overseas – 10, Academy – 6, Trade – 6, Super Draft – 4, Lower Leagues – 2 MLS Scrap Heap – 1

Money Spent – $9.7 M

Notes: Colorado have more Academy players than I was expecting. Then I looked at those Academy players, and the best one is probably Kortne Ford, who is a decent CB but isn’t even a regular starter on a bad team. So either their academy has a high quantity and low quality or they simply don’t trust their academy players, which is probably contributing to their poor play. It’s also worth noting that half of their overseas signing are from the UK, mostly in the lower leagues. It also doesn’t help when your highest paid players is a 39 year old Tim Howard ($2.5 M). I hope those jersey sales are worth it.

Columbus Crew

Overseas – 10, Academy – 2, Trade – 6, Super Draft – 7, Lower Leagues – 0, MLS Scrap Heap – 2

Money Spent – $7.7 M

Notes: Columbus are overseas and draft heavy. Although only two of those draft players, Justin Meram and Lalas Abubakar, play a starting role on the team. One starter, Zardes, came via trade, and another, Will Trapp, came through the academy. The other seven starters came from overseas. Also one of the few teams with no one from lower leagues. Shows that Columbus does not operate a team in USL. Definitely low spenders here, but they regularly punch above their weight in that category.

DC United

Overseas – 9, Academy – 4, Trade – 7, Super Draft – 4, Lower Leagues – 1, MLS Scrap Heap – 3

Money Spent – $9.7 M

Notes: DC used to be the kings of the MLS Scrap Heap and Trades. They would buy low on any player they could and make them useful. And its worth noting they still have one of the higher trade numbers in the league. Now that their stadium has been payed for, they’ve loosened the purse strings a little bit dropping money for players like Wayne Rooney. Even Lucho Acosta cost them at least a $1 million. Below average money spent on salary, but that could change soon too. I’d also expect their Lower League number to increase as their USL team gets started in 2019.

FC Dallas

Overseas – 10, Academy – 9, Trade – 2, Super Draft – 7, Lower Leagues – 1, MLS Scrap Heap – 1

Money Spent – $9.3 M

Notes: Dallas have the highest number of academy players on their team even after trading Kellyn Acosta. Unfortunately, they do not have a USL team for these kids to get more minutes. That being said, three of their academy kids are regularly getting minutes for the first team in Cannon, Ulloa, and Gonzalez. Dallas also have a decided Latin American flavor to their overseas signings with  6/10 coming from South/Central America. They also have a surprising number draft picks giving them good minutes, such as Matt Hedges, Jacori Hayes, Tesho Akindele, and Ryan Hollingshead. Overall it seems that Dallas has found a nice balance between overseas signings, academy players, and draft picks.

Houston Dynamo

Overseas – 13, Academy – 2, Trade – 8, Super Draft – 3, Lower Leagues – 2, MLS Scrap Heap – 2

Money Spent – $5.9 M

Notes: My big takeaway from this roster is that Houston does not want to develop its own talent. Almost all of their starters are from overseas or from trades. They don’t even try to develop players from the draft like Chicago, Columbus or Dallas. This is more speculative, but I believe this is because Houston are the lowest budget team in the league. They are affiliated with USL side Rio Grand Valley FC, running all soccer operations of the club without actually owning the club, which is the cheaper option. They also don’t have many academy players.

Los Angeles FC

Overseas – 9, Academy – 0 Trade – 6, Super Draft – 2, Lower Leagues – 3, MLS Scrap Heap – 7

Money Spent – $14.1 M

Notes:  As the most recent expansion team, having no academy players is understandable. And the MLS Scrap Heap number is inflated because they have 3 Expansion Draft picks still on the team. Those numbers will even out over the next few years. As for their overseas signings, they’re looking solely in Latin America and Europe, neither more than the other, which is no different than the rest of the league. Surprisingly high spenders for an expansion team.

LA Galaxy

Overseas – 13, Academy – 3, Trade – 3, Super Draft – 1, Lower Leagues – 4,  MLS Scrap Heap – 2

Money Spent – $17.5 M

Notes: So the Galaxy almost solely build their team using overseas signing, and every single one of those overseas signings were playing in Europe before joining the Galaxy. That strategy may put butts in seats but they’ve been pretty hit or miss. This is honestly disappointing from one of the flagship teams of the league. They shed a lot of academy players over the last year, seemingly not willing to develop that talent. Perhaps 2018’s roster is a reactionary one, moving away from young talent after trying to incorporate it backfired so hard in 2017?

Minnesota United

Overseas – 12, Academy – 0, Trade – 8 Super Draft – 4, Lower Leagues – 2 MLS Scrap Heap – 3

Money Spent – $8.5 M

Notes: I think Minnesota are in a similar place this season as DC United was last season; their stadium is almost built and so they’ve started to spend a little more money on good players. Last year DC brought in Paul Arriola and Lucho Acosta. This year Minnesota brought in their first two DPs. I doubt that Minnesota will bring in someone like Wayne Rooney, but Darwin Quintero could be as dynamic if he has the right pieces around him. And seeing as most of their overseas players are from Latin America, I’d expect them to spend their money there. Hopefully they also get some players out of their academy, which has been running for two years.

Montreal Impact

Overseas – 12, Academy – 6, Trade – 4, Super Draft – 5, Lower Leagues – 1, MLS Scrap Heap – 1

Money Spent – $12.6 M

Notes: Montreal has more academy players than I was expecting. I guess I forgot that they were the academy that just sold Ballou-Tabla to Barcelona. The current crop hasn’t done much, but it may take a few years before another big talent comes along. It’s also apparent that Montreal’s USL team folded a year or two ago. Otherwise, Montreal relies on their overseas signings, most of which come from Europe (8/12). Notably, there are three players from France playing for the most french geographical region in MLS, and for a coach who used to ply his trade in France. Montreal have also acquired 2 players from Bologna in Italy, whose owner also owns the Impact.

New England Revolution

Overseas – 11, Academy – 4, Trade – 2, Super Draft – 8, Lower Leagues – 0, MLS Scrap Heap – 2

Money Spent – $7.5 M

Notes: The Revs mostly rely on overseas signings and draft picks for their team. Of their overseas signings, the one that’s performed the best this year, Penilla, only has 11 goals … and that leads the team. Perhaps this is a reflection of their low spenidng (second lowest in the league). They were affiliated with the Rochester USL side, but that team is currently on hiatus. To be fair it is Brad Friedel’s first year as a coach. We’ll see what direction he takes the team next year.

New York City FC

Overseas – 15, Academy – 2, Trade –  4, Super Draft – 4, Lower Leagues – 3, MLS Scrap Heap – 1

Money Spent – $14.8 M

Notes: NYCFC has the second highest Overseas numbers in the league, which perhaps explains their large budget. I guess that is not terribly surprising when you remember that they are owned by Manchester City. 10 of those 15 are coming from Europe while the rest are coming from Latin America. The only non-overseas signings getting minutes are Seas Johnson (acquired via trade), Ben Sweat, and Sebastian Ibeagha (both acquired from USL teams). Although, NYCFC’s academy is emerging and both academy players, Scally and Sands, have started to receive minutes. Hopefully that trend continues.

New York Red Bulls

Overseas – 10, Academy – 8, Trade – 4, Super Draft – 3, Lower Leagues – 3 MLS Scrap Heap – 1

Money Spent – $8.1 M

Notes: I was surprised that the Lower Legues number was so low, as the Red Bulls operate one of the better teams in USL (New York Red Bulls II). However, those three players, Aaron Long, Florian Valot, and Vincent Bezecourt, are either starters or “in-the-rotation” players when healthy. Plus, each of RBNY’s 8 academy players has played significant minutes in USL. Then the overseas signings break down like this: 5 young Latin American guys, 4 in-their-prime European guys, and 1 young guy from Cameroon (Ndam, now with Cincinnati). Also worth noting the only Scrap Heap player is BWP as he came to the team as a trialist. Now he’s the best goal-scorer in the leagues history. Also the best bang-for-you-buck team in the league.

Orlando City SC

Overseas – 11 Academy – 2, Trade – 8 Super Draft – 3, Lower Leagues – 4, MLS Scrap Heap – 2

Money Spent – $8.9 M

Notes: More often than not Orlando looks to overseas signings, or trades to fill their roster. Quite frankly, this team looks decent on paper, which is what everyone was saying to start of 2018. They don’t have a core they’ve been developing for years. They have many solid players who were core players of other teams but weren’t able to come together this season. Perhaps this is the nature of having a lot of trades?

Philadelphia Union

Overseas – 7, Academy – 5, Trade – 4, Super Draft – 8, Lower Leagues – 3, MLS Scrap Heap – 1

Money Spent – $8.9 M

Notes: Philadelphia have followed a similar path to the New York Red Bulls with a handful of Lower League signings and all of their academy players getting USL minutes. They also have a high number of Super Draft players giving them minutes including Andre Blake, Keagan Rosenberry, Jack Elliot, Raymon Gaddis, Richie Marquez, and Fabian Herbers. Interestingly, their midfield three (Medujanin, Bedoya, and Dockal) were all overseas signings. Doing all of this on a below average budget.

Portland Timbers

Overseas – 18, Academy – 2, Trade – 4 Super Draft – 1, Lower Leagues – 4 MLS Scrap Heap – 1

Money Spent – $11.0 M

Notes: I had to double-check that Overseas number. No other team in the league is even close to 18 overseas signings. Portland are almost the anti-Philadelphia, as they barely develop any of their own talent. Interestingly, this has worked out for the club for the most part. They won an MLS Cup in 2015 and made MLS Cup in 2018. However, I sense a change coming. Current head coach Gio Savaresse has been known for developing players, and Portland’s USL team played well in 2018. Perhaps this isn’t a total 180 degree flip, but a shift towards the middle.

Real Salt Lake

Overseas – 11, Academy – 7, Trade – 3, Super Draft – 2, Lower Leagues – 5, MLS Scrap Heap – 0

Money Spent – $8.1 M

Notes: RSL are another team that favors developing their own players. They have the highest number from lower leagues and one of the highest academy numbers. They do not value the draft, as they traded away their first round pick last year. 8/11 of their overseas signing are from Europe and the rest are from Latin America. Those signings are also mostly young. Below average in spending.

San Jose Earthquakes

Overseas – 11, Academy – 5, Trade – 2, Super Draft – 6, Lower Leagues – 5, MLS Scrap Heap – 0

Money Spent – $8.3 M

Notes: I am surprised by how many Academy and Lower League players San Jose has. They have had far less success as similarly built teams. But when you look at their overseas signings, none of them have really performed well. And quite frankly they have stopped trying to develop those Academy/Lower League players once they reach the first team. Maybe those players truly aren’t good enough to start? Doubtful as this team was in the cellar for most of the season. Perhaps their new coach can turn things around.

Seattle Sounders

Overseas – 8, Academy – 3, Trade – 6, Super Draft – 3, Lower Leagues – 6, MLS Scrap Heap – 1

Money Spent – $11.8 M

Notes: The Sounders have one of the most balanced rosters in terms of where they find players. They are also the Kings of Trades. All six of their trades are either starters or in the rotation for starting minutes. No one else has that level of success with that many trades. They also develop a good amount of their own talent, although I think their academy is currently at a low. They are the academy that gave us Deandre Yedlin and Jordan Morris, both of which will figure into the national team this cycle. Most academies would envy that kind of production.

Sporting Kansas City

Overseas – 10, Academy – 4, Trade – 3, Super Draft – 5, Lower Leagues – 3 MLS Scrap Heap – 3

Money Spent – $11.6 M

Notes: SKC develops players from their academy, lower leagues, and the draft. They don’t spend a ton of money on their overseas signings, and get a pretty good return all things considered. Interestingly, 6/10 of SKC’s overseas signings come from the Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal). Lastly, even though they are average spenders I expected them to be a small-market, low-spending team.

Toronto FC

Overseas – 10 Academy – 7, Trade – 3, Super Draft – 2, Lower Leagues – 2, MLS Scrap Heap – 3

Money Spent – $26.6 M

Notes: Toronto mostly use overseas signings and their Academy but they have some key players outside of those categories, such as Free Agent Drew Moor, and defender Justin Morrow. When you look at the core of the team, most of them are overseas signings, such as Bradley, Altidore, Giovinco, and Vasquez. Marky Delgado is their best academy player. By far the highest spending team. Giovinco ($7.1 M) and Bradley ($6.5 M) are each making more money than the entire Houston Dynamo roster ($5.9 M).

Vancouver Whitecaps FC

Overseas – 12, Academy – 5, Trade – 6, Super Draft – 2, Lower Leagues – 4 MLS Scrap Heap – 1

Money Spent – $8.1 M

Notes: I would not have pegged Vancouver as a team with a lot of Academy and Lower League players. I guess Alphonso Davies doesn’t come out of nowhere. Their overseas signings are half-and-half players from Europe and Latin America. A good number of those overseas signings have done decently well too. Which raises the question, why are the Caps a mid-table team? Well there is a reason they just fired their head coach. It’s also worth noting that their big attacking players are Davies, who is leaving, and Kei Kamara, who is well into his 30’s.

The 2018 Average Playoff Team

Overseas – 11, Academy – 4, Trade – 4.5, Super Draft – 4, Lower Leagues – 3, MLS Scrap Heap – 2

Money Spent – $10.56 M

Notes: Slightly above average in Lower League players, and about $.5 M below average in salaries.

The 2018 Average Non-Playoff Team

Overseas – 11, Academy – 4, Trade – 5, Super Draft – 4, Lower Leagues – 2.5, MLS Scrap Heap – 2

Money Spent – $11.74 M

Notes: Slightly above average number of players traded for and about $.5 M above average in salaries.

So what were my takeaways from this exercise?

  1. Good teams tend to use more mechanisms
    1. Look at the two best teams in the league, Atlanta and New York. Atlanta has more overseas signings but New York has more Academy players. Atlanta has more Scrap Heap players but New York has more Lower League players. Both have their signings spread across many categories.
  2. How/Where you spend matters
    1. Colorado and DC both spend about $9.7 M on their salaries with one player making over $2 M. However, Colorado’s big name player is Tim Howard ($2.5 M), and DC’s is Wayne Rooney ($2.8 M). Just an interesting parallel as they ended in vastly different places in the standings.
    2. 2 of the top 5 spenders did not make the playoffs this year (Toronto, and Chicago). Same goes for 3 of the top 10 (add Montreal).
    3. 2 of the bottom 5 spenders did make the playoffs this year (New York Red Bulls, and Columbus).
    4. The bottom spender, Houston, won the US Open Cup.
    5. The average playoff team spent ~ $1.2 M less on their salaries than the average non-playoff team.
  3. If you’re going to rely on one mechanism it should be overseas signings
    1. NYCFC and Portland have 15 and 18 overseas signings, respectively, which is well above average. Both of them made the playoffs this year.
  4. It’s not the mechanism that matters, its how you use it
    1. Look at Dallas and New England who both have above the average number of Super Draft signings. Dallas get way more out of their Super Draft picks than New England does, finishing higher in the standings. Or Look at New York Red Bulls’ three Lower League players versus Sporting Kansas City’s three. The New York guys are starters or off-the-bench options when healthy. Meanwhile SKC’s have played a collective 65 minutes this season.
  5. We mainly scout players in Europe and Latin America (Neither is inherently better than the other)
    1. There are a total of 11 overseas signings from outside of Europe and Latin America (4 from China, 3 from Cameroon, 1 from South Africa, 1 from Tunisia, 1 from Australia, and 1 from Egypt). There are a total of 253 overseas signings. Of course there is more good soccer played in Europe and Latin America than anywhere else in the world so it is partially warranted. However, MLS has room to grow in terms of international scouting.
  6. Most players from Scandinavian leagues are okay in MLS
    1. These are the best players from Scandinavian leagues (Norway, Sweeden, Finland, Denmark): Yoshi Yotun, Danny Royer, Adama Diomande, and Anton Tinnerholm. Diomande has only played well under Bob Bradley so I think he’s an exception. And the rest of these players are good, but not great. Yotun might be great but not on an abysmal Orlando squad, Danny Royer is a hot/cold player and Tinnerholm is a steady fullback. The other dozen or so players signed from Scandinavia aren’t worth talking about. (Ola Kamara was signed from Scandinavia before being traded to the Galaxy, he’s probably the best of the bunch).
  7. Draft heavy teams tend to be small market/low spending teams
    1. Here are the teams with more than 5 Draft picks on their roster and how much they spent on their player salaries this year: Chicago ($15.5 M), Columbus ($7.7 M), Dallas ($9.3 M), New England ($7.5 M), San Jose ($8.3 M), and Philadelphia ($8.9 M). Chicago stands out having spent much more than the rest of these teams. But again, Schweinsteiger is 1/3 of their salary budget.
  8. “Money Ball” is possible, but difficult
    1. By “Money Ball” I mean outperforming your spending. Notice how many of the above “Draft heavy” teams made the playoffs this year (Dallas, Columbus, and Philadelphia). When teams scout the draft well and develop the players they draft they make the rest of their roster construction easier. It’s worth noting there are other “Money Ball” teams that don’t focus on the draft such as RSL, RBNY, and DC; these three teams are below average in spending. New England, Vancouver, and Houston are three more low spenders who didn’t make the playoffs.
  9. Academy/Lower League players tend to raise a team’s floor.
    1. Here are the teams with more than 8 (average would be 6.5) combined Academy and Lower League players: New York, Dallas, Vancouver, Toronto, Seattle, RSL, and San Jose. San Jose really tanked this year, but all of these teams made the playoffs this year or last year.
  10. Having a high number of trades isn’t a good thing
    1. Here are the teams with more than 6 players acquired via trade: Orlando, Houston, DC, and Minnesota. If it were not for DC’s signing of Wayne Rooney, all of these teams would be missing the playoffs. I suppose that’s the nature of a trade though; it is more of a band-aid than a permanent solution.
  11. Teams with Low Overseas numbers
    1. Teams with under 10 overseas signings: Seattle, Philadelphia, LAFC, Chicago and DC. This is an interesting group of playoff teams (except Chicago). None of these teams were considered the best in the league this year, but they were all considered contenders.

Check out the rest of my series Profiling MLS Teams 2018

Profiling MLS Stadiums

During this MLS Offseason I want to look at the different structures of MLS teams. In this piece, I am examining the stadiums in which MLS teams play. Since I’ve only been to two of these stadiums, I’m trying to stay objective by looking at the numbers. I’m going to give a loose ranking of the stadiums based off of Capacity, 2018 Average Attendance (% of Full Capacity on average), Surface (grass vs. turf), Home-Field Advantage (Record at Stadium over the last 3 years, *exceptions for stadiums younger than 3 years), whether it’s a soccer specific stadium, and I’ll occasionally give bonus points for being aesthetically pleasing. By “loose ranking”, I’m going to group the stadiums into tiers. With that said, here are some median and average numbers:

Stadium (Team) $141.67 million (only including stadiums built by MLS teams)

Capacity (using reduced capacities for larger stadiums) – 20,973 (Median) 23,585 (Average)

Avg. Attendance – 19,384 (Median), 21,852 (Average, like and Average of a the teams’ averages)

% Capacity Full – 92.4% (Median), 92.6% (Average)

Home Field Advantage – 1.87 ppg,

Mostly Soccer Specific, and 17/23 on Grass

In terms of Capacity and Attendance, considering the outliers in this data (Seattle and Atlanta), the median numbers are more representative of the league as a whole and so I will reference those rather than the averages throughout.

Tier 5: Underachievers

Dick’s Sporting Goods Park (Colorado Rapids) $131 Million

Capacity – 18,061, Avg. Attendance – 15,333 (84.9%), Home Field Advantage – 25W – 13L – 13D (1.73 ppg), Soccer Specific – Yes, Surface – Grass

Notes: Colorado’s Home since 2007. Low Capacity, Low Attendance, and a bad home record can’t be saved by the grass field.

Toyota Park (Chicago Fire) $70 million

Capacity – 20,000, Avg. Attendance – 14,806 (74%), Home Field Advantage – 24W – 12L – 15D (1.71 ppg), Soccer Specific – Yes, Surface – Grass

Notes: Chicago’s Home since 2006. Low Attendance hurts Chicago’s standing here and their home-field advantage has been poor over the past few years.

Tier 4: Sub-par Stadium Set-ups

MAPFRE Stadium (Columbus Crew) $28.5 million

Capacity – 19,968, Avg. Attendance – 12,447 (62.33%), Home Field Advantage – 29W – 8L, 16D (2.01 ppg), Soccer Specific – Yes, Surface – Grass

Notes: Columbus’ Home since 1999. The first Soccer-Specific stadium in the United States. The Crew’s low numbers are undoubtedly due to the rumors throughout the year that the team was moving to Austin. A new ownership group has officially bought the club, and have plans for a new downtown stadium so we’ll see if the numbers bounce back in 2019.

Avaya Stadium (San Jose Earthquakes) $100 million

Capacity – 18,000, Avg. Attendance – 17,050 (94.7%), Home Field Advantage – 19W – 14L – 18D (1.47 ppg), Soccer Specific – Yes, Surface – Grass

Notes: San Jose’s Home since 2015. Played one game at Stamford’s Stadium which has a capacity of 50,000+, that game was subtracted from the Avg. Attendance calculation. It’s nice that they have a lot of sellout’s but a low Capacity and one of the worst Home Field Advantages put San Jose near the bottom of this list.

Talen Energy Stadium (Philadelphia Union) $122 million

Capacity – 18,500, Avg. Attendance – 16,518 (89.3%), Home Field Advantage – 27W – 15L – 9D (1.76 ppg), Soccer Specific – Yes, Surface – Grass

Notes: The Union’s Home since 2010. Philly underperforms in every statistical category  category making them a perfect fit for this sub-par group.

BBVA Compass Stadium (Houson Dynamo) $95 million

Capacity – 22,039, Avg. Attendance – 16,906 (76.6%), Home Field Advantage – 25W – 12L – 14D (1.75 ppg), Soccer Specific – Yes, Surface – Grass

Notes: Houston’s Home since 2012. If Houston filled their stadium more and had a higher Home Field Advantage than they could move out of this tier.

Toyota Stadium (FC Dallas) $65 million

Capacity – 20,500, Avg. Attendance – 15,512 (75.6%), Home Field Advantage – 30W – 5L – 16D (2.08 ppg), Soccer Specific – Yes, Surface – Grass

Notes: FC Dallas’ Home since 2005. Dallas is saved by their Home Field Advantage, and their low attendance numbers keep them out of a higher tier.

Stade Saputo (Montreal Impact) $35.1 million (47 million Canadian Dollars)

Capacity – 20,801, Avg. Attendance – 18,569 (89.2%), Home Field Advantage – 24W – 17L – 8D (1.57 ppg),  Soccer Specific – Yes, Surface – Grass

Notes: Montreal’s Home since 2012. Similarly to Dallas, Montreal is not in a higher tier because of poor Home Field Advantage.

Tier 4: Not Soccer Specific with Solid Attendance

BC Place (Vancouver Whitecaps) Not built by MLS team

Capacity – 54,500 (22,120 Reduced), Avg. Attendance – 21,946 (40.2% or 99.2% Reduced), Home Field Advantage – 22W – 13L – 16D (1.61 ppg), Soccer Specific – No, Surface – Turf

Notes: Vancouver’s Home since 2011. Intended for the Olympics, playing in BC Place is good home for the Whitecaps. If they could fill their stadium like Atlanta or Seattle they would definitely jump up some tiers.

Gillette Stadium (New England Revolution) Not built by MLS team

Capacity – 65, 878 (20,000 Reduced), Avg. Attendance – 18,347 (27.8% or 91.7% Reduced), Home Field Advantage – 29W – 10L – 12D (1.94 ppg), Soccer Specific – No,  Surface – Turf

Notes: The Rev’s Home since 2002. Playing in a football stadium and not selling it out looks bad but their attendance and Home Field Advantage aren’t the worst.

Yankee Stadium (New York City FC) Not built by MLS team

Capacity – 47,309 (30,321 Reduced), Avg. Attendance – 23,211 (49.1% or 76.5% Reduced), Home Field Advantage – 30W – 6L – 15D (2.05 ppg), Soccer Specific – Obviously Not, Surface – A baseball field

Notes: NYCFC’s Home since 2015. Higher Attendance and Home Field Advantage numbers than some of the stadium’s above it but is dragged down by the fact that it’s a frickin’ baseball stadium. Worth noting NYCFC have had to relocate home games to Citi Field and somewhere in Connecticut due to schedule conflicts with the Yankees. Definitely not ideal.

Honorable Mention – Nippert Stadium (FC Cincinnati) Not built by MLS team

Capacity – 40,000, Avg. Attendance – 25,717 (64.3%), Home Field Advantage – 30W – 8L – 13D (2.01 ppg), Soccer Specific – No, Surface – Turf

Notes: Cincinnati played in US’s second division in 2018 (known as USL), but they will be joining MLS in 2019. They already boast a higher than average attendance. There are plans for them to build a soccer specific stadium which will be ready within a few years. Their Home Field Advantage number is against USL competition but is impressive nonetheless.

Tier 3: Almost Ideal Soccer Specific Stadiums

Allianz Field (Minnesota United) $68 million

Capacity – 19,400, *Avg. Attendance – 23,902 (123%), *Home Field Advantage – 17W – 12L – 5D (1.65 ppg), Soccer Specific – Yes, Surface – Grass, Bonus points for looking DOPE!

Notes: *Allianz opens in 2019 and so the Avg. Attendance and Home Field Advantage numbers were from Minnesota playing in TCF Bank Stadium which has a capacity of 50,000+*. Minnesota have only played in MLS since 2017. This is a weird one to rank with the stadium switch, so I’ve put it dead in the middle. TCF Bank Stadium hasn’t been optimal but it looks like Allianz will be.

Rio Tinto Stadium aka “The RioT” (Real Salt Lake) $50.13 million

Capacity – 20,213, Avg. Attendance – 18,605 (92%), Home Field Advantage – 28W – 7L – 16D (1.96 ppg), Soccer Specific – Yes, Surface – Grass

Notes: RSL’s Home since 2008. Slightly above average Home Field Advantage And relatively high % Capacity filled on average. Plus I love the nickname “The RioT”

Auid Field (DC United) $400-500 million

Capacity – 20,500, Avg. Attendance – 18,818 (91.8%), *Home Field Advantage – 12W – 2L – 1D (2.46 ppg), Soccer Specific – Yes, Surface – Grass

Notes: DC’s Home since summer of 2018 (*Less than 3 seasons). If Audi Field can maintain it’s Home Field Advantage (which currently has the smallest sample size of any stadium), and sellout every game, then it would enter the next highest tier.

Orlando City Stadium (Orlando City SC) $155 million

Capacity – 25,500, Avg. Attendance – 23,866 (93.6%), *Home Field Advantage – 13W – 12L – 9D (1.41 ppg), Soccer Specific – Yes, Surface – Grass, Bonus points because I love the color purple

Notes: Orlando’s Home since 2017 (*Less than 3 seasons). The only thing keeping Orlando out of the next highest tier is their low Home Field Advantage.

StubHub Center (Los Angeles Galaxy) $150 million

Capacity – 27,000, Avg. Attendance – 24,444 (90.5%), Home Field Advantage – 19W – 15L – 17D (1.45 ppg), Soccer Specific – Yes, Surface – Grass

Notes: LA Galaxy’s Home since 2003. The Galaxy are in a similar spot to Orlando in terms of their stadium – higher Capacity and Average Attendance but very poor Home Field Advantages recently. Also like Orlando, they’d be in the next tier with a better Home Field Advantage.

Red Bull Arena (New York Red Bulls) $200 million

Capacity – 25,000, Avg. Attendance – 18,644 (74.6%), Home Field Advantage – 36W – 6L – 9D (2.29 ppg), Soccer Specific – Yes, Surface – Grass

Notes: RBNY’s Home since 2010. RBNY have the highest Home Field Advantage (excluding DC’s small sample size). However, their Average Attendance has to knock them into this “Almost Ideal” tier.

Tier 2: Ideal Soccer Specific Stadiums

Banc of California Stadium (Los Angeles FC) $350 million

Capacity – 22,000, Avg. Attendance – 22,000 (100%), *Home Field Advantage – 9W – 1L – 7D (2.0 ppg), Soccer Specific – Yes, Surface – Grass

Notes: LAFC’s Home since 2018 (*Less than 3 seasons). I was shocked to learn that LAFC sold out every game this year. They also had a solid Home Field Advantage. Honestly there’s little to improve upon, but their sample size is still only one season, which knocks them a little lower on this list.

Children’s Mercy Park (Sporting Kansas City) $200 million

Capacity – 18,467, *Avg. Attendance – 19,950 (108%), Home Field Advantage – 30W – 7L – 14D (2.03 ppg), Soccer Specific – Yes, Surface – Grass

Notes: SKC’s Home since 2011. *There are standing room tickets which allow SKC to go above Capacity*. Selling out your stadium and having a good Home Field Advantage goes a long way.

Providence Park (Portland Timbers) Not built by MLS team

Capacity – 21,144, Avg. Attendance – 21,444 (100%), Home Field Advantage – 34W – 7L – 6D (2.11 ppg), Soccer Specific – Historically no but right now Yes, Surface – Turf

Notes: Portland’s Home since 2011. Similar place to SKC, but slightly higher Capacity/Attendance and Home Field Advantage. Providence Park as a stadium has been around since 1926 and has been the home of many sports. It wasn’t originally intended for soccer but right now it’s main tenants are the Timbers and the NWSL team the Portland Thorns. Not exactly Soccer Specific but I’m going to count it.

BMO Field (Toronto FC) $62 million

Capacity – 30,991, Avg. Attendance – 26,628 (85.9%), Home Field Advantage – 29W – 11L – 11D (1.92 ppg), Soccer Specific – Yes, Surface – Grass

Notes: Toronto’s Home since 2007. Toronto’s Home Field Advantage took a hit this year, but their higher Capacity, and Average Attendance are tough to look past.

Tier 1: NFL Stadiums with High Attendance

Century Link Field (Seattle Sounders) Not built by MLS team

Capacity – 69,000 (39,419 Reduced), Avg. Attendance – 40,641 (58.9% or 103.1%), Home Field Advantage – 31W – 11L – 9D (2.0 ppg), Soccer Specific – No, Surface – Turf

Notes: Seattle’s Home since 2009. Perhaps what’s most impressive about Seattle is their longevity. To have such high Attendance, and Home Field Advantage for so long. If it were not for Atlanta, Seattle would easily top this list.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta United) Not built by MLS team

Capacity – 72,035 (42,500 Reduced), Avg. Attendance – 53,002 (73.6% or 124.7% Reduced), *Home Field Advantage – 16W – 3L – 6D (2.16 ppg), Soccer Specific – No, Surface – Turf

Notes: Atlanta’s home since since September of 2017 (*Less than 3 seasons). Despite not being a soccer specific stadium and being played on turf the atmosphere in “The Benz” is electric. There are reports that they are the 15th highest attended soccer team in the world. That’s nuts for this league and I look forward to this trend continuing. Atlanta beat out Seattle here on higher Average Attendance and Capacity.

Check out the rest of my series Profiling MLS Teams 2018