Pride of the New York Red Bulls

The New York Red Bulls recently signed 2019 Super Draft pick Sean Nealis to a first team contract. Sean is the second “Sean” on the team (after Sean Davis), the 6th New Yorker on the team, and the 12th player from NY, NJ, or CT (including Ryan Meara, Evan Louro, Kyle Duncan, Tim Parker, Connor Lade, Omir Fernandez, Alex Muyl, Sean Davis, Ben Mines, Brian White, and Derrick Etienne Jr.). As I noted on twitter, you could make a semi-functional starting XI out of these 12 players (4-4-2):

White – Etienne

Mines – Davis – Fernandez – Muyl

Lade – Nealis – Parker – Duncan

Meara/Louro

(Meara and Louro are both Goalkeepers)

Fernandez is the only player here who is obviously out of position. Most prefer Etienne play on the wing, but he has spent time up top in the past, and I’m not sure if Ben Mines is comfortable playing on the left wing. But those are small quibbles you might see in any game-day roster. This would never be the first choice lineup, but I think this XI could play a US Open Cup game against a USL team. In that game, Parker, Meara, and Davis would easily be the best players on the field, Muyl, Etienne, White, Lade, and Duncan would all look comfortable. Fernandez and Nealis are more or less unknown quantities at this point so I won’t make any claims there. Point is, this team would be competitive. I think it goes without saying that they would struggle against most MLS teams.

Regardless, this got me wondering, “How many other MLS teams could make similar claims of showcasing local talent?” So I did some digging. Below you can find every other MLS team and how many players grew up near where that team is located. This is relatively loosely defined, since I’m counting NJ and CT for the New York Red Bulls I have to be lenient for teams like New England, Kansas City, Cincinnati, etc. who are all near state borders/cover multiple states.

 

Atlanta United – 5 (All Georgia)

Chicago Fire – 4 (All Illinois)

FC Cincinnati – 4 (1 Ohio, 3 Michigan)

Colorado Rapids –  6 (All Colorado)

Columbus Crew – 5 (4 Ohio, 1 Michigan)

FC Dallas – 8 (All Texas)

DC United – 7 (4 Maryland, 3 Virginia)

Houston Dynamo – 3 (All Texas)

LAFC – 3 (All Southern California)

LA Galaxy – 8 (All Southern California)

Minnesota United – 3 (2 Minnesota, 1 Wisconsin)

Montreal Impact – 9 (All Quebec)

New England Revolution – 6 (5 Massachusetts, 1 Rhode Island)

NYCFC – 4 (All New York)

RBNY – 12 (6 New York, 5 New Jersey, 1 Connecticut)

Orlando City SC – 2 (Both Florida)

Philadelphia Union – 7 (4 Pennsylvania, 2 Delaware, 1 New Jersey)

Portland Timbers – 2 (1 Oregon, 1 Washington)

Real Salt Lake – 2 (Both Utah)

San Jose Earthquakes – 7 (All Northern California)

Seattle Sounders – 3 (All Washington)

Sporting Kansas City – 3 (All Kansas)

Toronto FC – 10 (All Ontario)

Vancouver Whitecaps – 4 (All British Columbia)

 

The answer to my question seems to be no, but some teams do come close. Toronto came closest with 10, and Montreal is right behind them with 9. I also wasn’t simply counting any Homegrown player, as many Homegrown territories spread far enough away that those players are hardly “local talent”. For example, Real Salt Lake have more Homegrowns from Arizona than they do from Utah. Since the Arizona border is approximately 7.5 hours from Salt Lake City it’s hardly fair to call those players local. I also limited San Jose to Northern California and both LA teams to Southern California, which made a difference by 2 or 3 players in all cases. All Three Canadian teams have relatively large territories but restricting them to their nominal city and immediate suburbs didn’t make a difference in any case.

Additionally, I was counting more than just Homegrown players. I was also counting any player who grew up in the area. For example, Tim Parker grew up on Long Island, was drafted by Vancouver, and was then traded to RBNY. He still counts as a local guy. This boosted numbers across the board, not helping any one team more than the others.

Out of curiosity, I wanted to look at a European club for comparison. I chose Ajax since they are known for having one of the best academies in the world (not a direct correlation to showcasing local talent, but I digress). Since the Netherlands is a relatively small country, I counted any Dutch player as a “local” player (The Netherlands is smaller than most states in square miles). Ajax have 10 Dutch players on their roster. Of course there are more variables involved with Ajax’s roster, i.e. more money, higher level of competition, more global scouting network, etc. After seeing that statistic though, part of me wants to say “RBNY has the most local talent on their team relative to any club in the world!” but that’s definitely not true. Think of small teams that plays in Central America or the Carribean. They are likely only working with local talent.

Either way, it’s really cool that RBNY are able to play at such a high level in MLS and make their fans proud by playing local talent.

 

 

Advertisements

Why you should watch the CONCACAF Champions League

Are you a soccer fan in North America, or a general sports fan in North America for that matter? Yes? Then I have an exciting competition to introduce you to: The CONCACAF Champions League.

The Basics

The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) is the governing body of soccer in the western hemisphere north of the Panama Canal. Each continent has their own confederation which oversees and organizes different club and national team competitions between member nations. The most famous of which is the United European Football Association, or UEFA. CONCACAF works similarly to UEFA so think of it through that lens if you are familiar with UEFA.

CONCACAF organizes the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) where the best club teams on the continent compete for a trophy and a birth into the FIFA Club World Cup. Club teams qualify for the Champions League by performing well in their domestic league. Bigger leagues, receive multiple births into the Champions League; for the 2019 edition Mexico and the United States received 4 births each, Canada, Costa Rica, Panama, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras all received 1 birth each, a Caribbean league including multiple countries received 1 birth, and 1 final birth is awarded to the winner of a qualification tournament which includes many smaller CONCACAF nations. In total 16 teams will participate.

The Champions League itself is more of a tournament with a straight bracket, starting with a Round of 16, then Quarterfinals, then Semi-finals, and lastly a single-game Final to decide a champion. Every round beside the final round is a two-legged affair, meaning there will be two games, one where each participating team gets to host.  The bracket is decided by placing teams into pots. The Mexican, and American teams are placed in one pot, and the rest are placed in another pot. Then match-ups are made by picking one name from each pot.

Now that you have the basic facts of the tournament, here are some reasons you should watch:

The Best Soccer Played on the Continent

Personally, as a fan of MLS, I want MLS to be one of the best leagues in the world. Of course, it is very far away from that. The first step in the process is being the best league on this continent, which MLS has yet to prove (Mexican teams have won the last 10 CCL titles). Additionally, if you are a fan of any sport, you should support that sport at a local level. Your support, especially financial support, allows that local product to improve. After enough support from enough people over a long enough period of time, any local sports team can become the best in the world. Since CCL is the best version of local soccer you’ll see on this continent, you should definitely support it. This goes for Mexican fans too. Even though you have already showed dominance in this competition, you need to prove it every year and continue to push it forward.

Multiple Rooting Interests

Personally, I support one team in MLS during the regular season, and that team often plays in CCL, but barring an MLS vs. MLS match, I root for all MLS teams in this competition. Watching Toronto and New York down Mexican teams last year was exciting regardless of being a regular fan or not. Plus, if one MLS team wins CCL, it is good for the whole league. It shows domestic and foreign players that MLS is just as good as Liga MX. As the saying goes, rising tides lift all boats. Luckily there are more MLS teams than any other league (4 American and 1 Canadian; it helps that the two geographically largest countries play in one league). Therefore, there are plenty of games with rooting interests.

More Competitive Now Than in the Past

Historically speaking, Mexican teams have dominated this competition, but last year hinted that that trend may be coming to a close. Toronto FC made it to the Final of the 2018 edition of CCL and quite frankly should have won. They outplayed the eventual winners, Chivas Guadalajara, but Chivas caught some lucky bounces and were clinical with the few chances they had. Chivas similarly beat the New York Red Bulls in the semi-final prior. Before falling to Chivas, RBNY beat Mexican powerhouse Tijuana, and Toronto beat tournament favorites Tigres and Club America, both from Mexico. This year we will find out whether MLS turned a corner or whether 2018 was a blip on the radar. And I haven’t mentioned them much but teams from Costa Rica are not push overs. Costa Rican side Saprissa are making their 8th appearance in the last 10 years of CCL, the most of any team in the 2019 iteration. They know what to expect. Lastly, only one team participating this year has previously won CCL (Monterrey of Liga MX).

Qualification for the FIFA Club World Cup

The winner of this competition gets to play against the best club team from Europe, South America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania in a tournament known as the Club World Cup. The European teams dominate this competition while playing mostly substitutes and/or reserves but it’s another way to measure the gap between CONCACAF competition against the best in the world. In fact it’s the only ‘competitive’ tournament where we can do that. I have to mention that FIFA is looking at making changes to the Club World Cup to make it more competitive. It looks like The Club World Cup may replace the Confederations Cup and would take place every 4 years, they year prior to a World Cup. The format would be expanded to include multiple Champions League winners from each continent, although with a decided preference for European teams (the suggested format had 24 teams, 12 coming from Europe). Regardless of format changes, the winner of CCL will still have an opportunity to play in the FIFA Club World Cup.

I hope I’ve convinced you and that you too catch #CCLFever this Febuary! Dates and times for all Round of 16 games can be found here!

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).

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!