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!

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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

Assessing Berhalter’s 1st USMNT Roster

The USMNT’s January Camp is unique in international soccer. Since MLS has a summer schedule, the opposite of most leagues in Europe, the USMNT hosts a 3 week long camp which usually ends in a friendly or two. Only players from MLS or the Scandinavian leagues (who take a break in the winter) tend to be called-in to this camp. This will be Gregg Berhalter’s first camp with the team, so this year will be extra special. Additionally, the Gold Cup is this coming summer, meaning the USMNT will have significant games for the first time since 2017.

Berhalter called 28 players into this year’s camp, all from MLS. I am going to organize this roster differently than usual. Instead of naming players by position, I am going to name them under the reason why I think Berhalter wanted them in camp. My categories are: 1. “Players who fit Berhalter’s system” 2. “Players who earned it with their play this year” 3. “Players familiar with the USMNT” 4. “The Rest”.

For readers who are new to Berhalter, he is looking for players who are comfortable on the ball, good passers, have good vision, and players who can create (or already have) partnerships. These are attractive qualities because Berhalter plays a possession-based system where chemistry is key. Teams in MLS that play similar to this are NYCFC (more so under Viera), Philadelphia, and Atlanta (at times).

Player (Age/POSITION/Club Team)

1. “Players who fit Berhalter’s system” (Self-explanatory)

Wil Trapp (25/CDM/Columbus Crew), Gyasi Zardes (27/ST/Columbus Crew), Zac Steffen (23/GK/Columbus Crew)

Obviously these three players know Berhalter’s system as they all played under him in 2018. I don’t know if these three will be mainstays on Berhalter’s USMNT squad selections, but having them in this first camp to help introduce the system will undoubtedly be useful.

Sean Jonson (29/GK/New York City FC), Tyler Miller (25/GK/LAFC)

Berhalter want’s ‘keeper’s who can play with their feet in order to pass the ball out of the back. Jonson and Miller have shown an ability to do just that with NYCFC and LAFC respectively.

Michael Bradley (31/CDM/Toronto FC)

This is the best example of “everyone needs another chance under Berhalter”. The new head coach himself said that he is going to give many players opportunities to prove themselves (from Berhalter’s opening press conference which you can find here). Before you start throwing tomatoes at me, think about it: Any player who played for the US for the last 8 years has either 1. Not been given great instructions by their coach (Jurgen Klinsman) or 2. Has been playing for a interim coach (Arena/Sarachan). If a player played poorly (or didn’t get called-up) in those circumstances they might deserve a second look under a coach who has a well-defined system (Berhalter). As for Bradley specifically, I think he’s a better version of Wil Trapp. He’s a better passer, he’s better defensively, and he covers more ground. His endurance has definitely dipped recently but we shouldn’t want him playing the whole game anyway. Sub him off for his potential replacement, or sub him on as a “closer” when we have a lead and the clock is winding down.

Marky Delgado (23/CM/Toronto FC)

Delgado is a very clean passer on the ball and has great vision. He can ping a through ball pretty well which will definitely fit into Berhalter’s scheme. I think Delgado may be better suited playing further upfield or perhaps as a tucked-in winger under Berhalter. However he usually plays deeper in the midfield. Not to mention he’s been Bradley’s partner in Toronto for the last few years so there’s instant chemistry there.

Keegan Rosenberry (24/RB/Philadelphia Union)

Not gonna lie, I started looking at Philadelphia tape more so to look at their CBs and I noticed “wow Rosenberry is making similar movements in attack as Harrison Afful does for Columbus”. He’s not too old either so I’m not surprised that Berhalter selected him.

Cristian Roldan (23/CM/Seattle Sounders)

Roldan is pretty good at everything: he can defend, he can play on the wing, he has a nose for goal, he likes changing the field of play, etc. I think he’ll be a pretty good stand-in for Artur (The Crew’s box-to-box midfielder under Berhalter). Roldan may even be an upgrade from Artur.

Aaron Long (26/CB/New York Red Bulls)

The Red Bulls play a different system from Columbus. Long seems like a fine passer but he’s not put under a ton of pressure when passing while playing for RBNY. I will say, Berhalter likes to push his fullbacks high up the field which the Red Bulls also like to do, and so the CBs in both systems have to be comfortable snuffing out a counter-attack. Both Long (and Parker who didn’t get called in) are really good at that. In that way, I think Long will fit into Berhalter’s scheme well. Its also worth noting that Long was just voted Defender of the Year, so he earned it.

2. “Players who have earned it with their play this year” (These players may not fit Berhalter’s system, but they played well in MLS this year).

Jeremy Ebobisse (21/ST/Portland Timbers), Corey Baird (22/ST,RW/Real Salt Lake)

Corey Baird won rookie of the year, and Ebobisse helped propel the Timber to the MLS Cup Final. As far as striker’s go, I think anyone can be good in Berhalter’s system so Ebobisse should be fine. Baird is listed as a midfielder here even though he played out wide and up top this season.

Nick Lima (24/RB or LB/San Jose Earthquakes)

Lima was perhaps the best player on a bad San Jose team this year. He even trialed with some German teams this winter. Lima usually featured at RB for San Jose but feels comfortable playing either fullback position. That flexibility is really useful on a national team where roster sizes are often limited. I’m interested to see how he plays at a higher level.

Reggie Cannon (20/RB/FC Dallas)

Cannon is probably a better defender than Rosenberry but I think Rosenberry offers more going forward. Either way, Cannon had a stellar first season for Dallas and has already been called-up by Sarachan a few times.

Russell Canouse (23/CDM/DC United)

Canouse rejoined DC from injury the very same game that Wayne Rooney joined the team for the first time. Many attribute DC’s great second half of the year to Rooney, but Canouse definitely steadied their midfield, aiding them to the best half-season in MLS history.

Auston Trusty (20/CB/Philadelphia Union) Mark McKenzie (19/CB/Philadelphia Union)

Trusty played every minute of the Union’s season in 2018, McKenzie played half of them. The Union had a pretty middle-of the road defense this year but their back line was young. Both these guys still have a lot to learn, but I think they have potential to fit into Berhalter’s system.

Paul Arriola (23/RM/DC United)

Seems like Arriola may be getting transitioned to RB rather than RM. He also played as a CM for part of 2018, so I am not sure where Berhalter will play him. He’s a hard runner and he’s pretty good on the ball. I think he might fit into the Ethan Finlay role of Berhalter’s system but I wouldn’t put money on that.

Greg Garza (27/LB/FC Cincinnati)

Garza earned his spot despite his season where minutes were limited due to injury. He’s looked good when he’s on the field but you gotta stay on the field. However LB is a mess for the national team per usual so I don’t mind Garza getting this call up.

Djorde Mihailovic (20/CM/Chicago Fire)

Similar to Garza, Mihailovic had his minutes limited by injury this year. But he looks good when he’s on the field and he’s young. Still not sure whether he projects more as a box-to-box midfielder or an attacking midfielder but he’s got some time to be molded into either role.

3. “USMNT Regulars” (These are players who may not fit Berhalter’s system, and didn’t have particularly great years, but they have national team experience and are talented).

Sebastian Lletget (26/CM/LA Galaxy), Kellyn Acosta (23/CM/Colorado Rapids)

Both of these guys play as box-to-box midfielder but they both play that position differently. I think both of them are deserving of a call-up but I don’t think either of them fit Berhalter’s system better than the other. Part of my difficulty here is that the box-to-box player is the least defined role on the field in any system. It seems like Berhalter want’s this player to defend well, support the attack, but not get so involved in the attack to make the team open to counters. Both of these guys like to get involved in the attack.

Walker Zimmerman (25/CB/LAFC)

I’m not thrilled with Zimmerman. he’s pretty good at last minute tackles to save a play but I’d prefer to see him put out fires before that happens.

4. “The Rest”

Justen Glad (21/CB/Real Salt Lake), Alex Bono (24/GK/Toronto), Jonathan Lewis (21/RW/NYCFC), Christian Ramirez (27/ST/LAFC), Daniel Lovitz (27/LM or LB/Montreal Impact)

Glad was a starter for most of RSL’s season but was on the bench down the stretch in the playoffs. Bono, and the rest of Toronto, had a down year; if he returns to 2017 form than this call-up is fine. Lewis got very few minutes (219) on NYCFC this year despite looking good when he plays. Ramirez had a transitional year getting traded from Minnesota to LAFC. He looked good-ish for a bad Minnesota team and was a rotational player once he went to LAFC. Lastly, Lovitz was a surprise for me at first but he started most of Montreal’s game this year at LB, and LB is a mess, as always.

None of these guys are bad call-ups, that’s not why they are in this category. However, I *might* have preferred other players get called-in instead (Hamid for Bono, Parker for Glad, Mueller for Lewis, Jozy Altidore for Ramirez, and Herrera for Lovitz) but Berhalter is the mastermind here so I’ll reserve judgement for now.

Here’s what a starting XI might look like:

Steffen

Rosenberry – Trusty – Long – Garza

Bradley – Delgado

Arriola – Lletget – Baird

Ebobisse

Subs: Jonson, Glad, Lima, Canouse, Mihailovic, Roldan, Zardes

I tried to use some pre-existing partnerships to solidify the roster (Rosenberry-Trusty, and Bradley-Delgado). I also wouldn’t be shocked if Trapp and Zardes start the first game. Once we can add European players into this mix imagine Pulisic either on the right wing or playing centrally, Miazga and/or Brooks in central defense (both pretty good on the ball), and then probably Adams and/or McKennie in the midfield. I wouldn’t be shocked if one of Adams or McKennie doesn’t start regularly for Berhalter. I’m leaning more towards McKennie starting and Adams on the bench but we shall see. Plenty more to consider and digest as the national team moves forward.