2014 NFL Redraft

They say you need five years to truly evaluate a draft class. Well here we are now five years removed from the 2014 NFL draft. This was a loaded draft class with tons of talent coming off the board in the first round. There were a couple sleepers (Telvin Smith, Charles Leno, Malcolm Butler). This might be one of the best drafts for defensive linemen and wide receivers ever.

I have wiped out all draft day trades as well because these players are no longer prospects, but proven performers. For example, there is no way the Browns trade down with the chance to add Odell Beckham Jr. at No. 4. Check out what each team would do now if they could redo the 2014 first round.

Editor’s Note: If you are looking for other NFL redrafts, here is 2012 and 2013.

Texans logo1. Houston Texans
Original pick: Jadeveon Clowney, Edge, South Carolina
New selection: Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo

Fast forward five years and Khalil Mack might be the most dynamic defensive player in the NFL (not named Aaron Donald). While I did consider Donald here, Donald fits best in a 4-3 front and the Texans are a 3-4 team. It’s not that Mack comes without merits either. He is only player in NFL history to be named All-Pro at two different positions. Him lining up opposite J.J. Watt would be terrifying for any quarterback.

Rams logo2. St. Louis Rams
Original pick: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
New selection: Aaron Donald, DL, Pittsburgh

The Rams earned the steal of this draft by taking it’s most dominant player 13th overall. That won’t happen here, but only because St. Louis (they hadn’t moved yet) adds the two-time defensive player of the year here instead. In addition to being a great run defender, Donald led the NFL with 20.5 sacks in 2018. The Rams do not reach a Super Bowl without him. While I have wiped out all draft day trades, St. Louis got the pick before the draft as part of the Robert Griffin III trade.

Jaguars logo3. Jacksonville Jaguars
Original pick: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
New selection: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois

Needless to say, Blake Bortles did not work out in Jacksonville. He had his moments, leading the Jaguars to the 2017 AFC Championship Game, but overall, his tenure was frustrating. Instead, the Jags front office snags one of the hottest young passers in the league by drafting the one-time heir apparent to Tom Brady. Jimmy Garoppolo only has 10 career starts at this point, but he has flashed great potential in those games.

Browns logo4. Cleveland Browns (traded to Buffalo)
Original pick: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
New selection: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU

It’s funny how these things work out. The Browns originally traded down here, but with Odell Beckham Jr. on the board, Cleveland cannot pass that up. OBJ is one of the most talented players in the NFL. Adding a dynamic playmaker drastically change the Browns’ fortunes. Keep in mind this team still had Josh Gordon. It doesn’t matter who is throwing the ball to him, they would look better playing with this guy.

Raiders logo5. Oakland Raiders
Original pick: Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo
New selection: Jadeveon Clowney, Edge, South Carolina

Jon Gruden said it best, it’s hard to find good pass rushers. Maybe the Raiders would have actually paid Jadeveon Clowney instead of shipping him out like they did Khalil Mack. Clowney is actually an elite run defender and an above average pass rusher, but his nine sacks in 2018 would have been most on Oakland, by five! At number five, Clowney is the best player available and fills a crucial need.

Falcons logo6. Atlanta Falcons
Original pick: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
New selection: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

If it ain’t broke. Jake Matthews has started 79 of a possible 80 games over the past five years. He was rightly rewarded with a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2018. Keeping Matt Ryan clean and giving him time to find his big downfield targets is still crucial. Matthews is easily the best tackle to come out of this draft. His consistency makes it hard for the Falcons to pass on him in a redraft.

Buccaneers logo7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Original pick: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
New selection: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

Another repeat pick as Tampa Bay lands Mike Evans once again. Despite all the uncertainty surrounding the Buccaneers offense over the past five years, Evans has been the one constant. He has eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards in each of his five seasons and has 40 career touchdowns. There is a chance he will be even more effective under new head coach Bruce Arians.

Vikings logo8. Minnesota Vikings (traded to Browns)
Original pick: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
New selection: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA

At first glance this might look like a different selection, but Minnesota still lands the same guy. There is some debate about whether or not the Vikings properly use Anthony Barr, but his willingness to take less money to return signifies his belief in the team’s approach. He is versatile and consistent. His athleticism makes him a tough player to gameplan for. No reason to change the pick.

Bills logo9. Buffalo Bills (traded to Browns then Vikings)
Original pick: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
New selection: Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State

Buffalo did not get what it was looking for with Sammy Watkins. Instead, the Bills opt to add Fresno State standout Davante Adams. Adams is one of the most underrated receivers in the league, featuring as Aaron Rodgers’ top target for the Packers. It might take the Bills a few years to find a solution at quarterback, but a player capable of putting up 35 receiving touchdowns over the past three years would help with any young passers’ development.

Lions Logo10. Detroit Lions
Original pick: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
New selection: DeMarcus Lawrence, DL, Boise State

This might seem like a bit of an odd pick considering the Lions took Ezekiel Ansah the year before in the top five. However, outside of Ansah, Detroit has lacked in the defensive playmakers department for the last few years. Landing another top pass rusher would make the Lions defense a lot scarier, potentially hiding some deficiencies in the pass defense. Lawrence has racked up 25 sacks over the past two seasons. He and Ansah would create a scary tandem.

Titans logo11. Tennessee Titans
Original pick: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
New selection: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan

The Titans join the rest of the crew electing to stick with their original pick. Taylor Lewan is the epitome of the style of play Tennessee employs. He is tough and gritty. His three straight Pro Bowl appearances are a testament to how well he fits the Titans’ system. Top end offensive line can be expensive to find in free agency, so landing it in the draft is key.

Giants Logo12. New York Giants
Original pick: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
New selection: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama

With their preferred selection off the board already, the Giants will opt to bolster their defense instead. New York has needed a true middle linebacker for a long time, constantly taking flyers on veterans or castoffs from other teams. Instead, they lock of the position for five years by taking C.J. Mosley. He would provide some much-needed stability up the middle of the Big Blue defense.

Rams logo13. St. Louis Rams
Original pick: Aaron Donald, DL, Pittsburgh
New selection: Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame

Obviously, Aaron Donald is gone by this point. The Rams had wanted to sure up the offensive line at No. 2 originally, taking Greg Robinson. He never really panned out, so instead St. Louis grabs the best interior lineman in the draft in Zack Martin. He has been a Pro Bowler in each of his five seasons and only missed two starts in career. Not buying the Pro Bowl selections? He is also a three-time All-Pro. If guard was a more valuable position in the league, he would be a top-five pick.

Bears logo14. Chicago Bears
Original pick: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
New selection: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech

There was definitely some uncertainty about Kyle Fuller’s credentials as a top corner heading into 2018. Then he led the league in interceptions and pass deflections, earning his first Pro Bowl appearance and All-Pro selection in the process. The spike in interceptions is probably due to the increased pass rush (Khalil Mack) the Bears had this season. However, he actually had fewer pass breakups in 2018 than he did in 2017. He has developed into a talented shutdown corner.

Pittsburgh_Steelers logo15. Pittsburgh Steelers
Original pick: Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
New pick: Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU

Had Ryan Shazier not suffered his horrific injury in 2017, he would likely be the pick here again. Instead, Pittsburgh opts to pair Antonio Brown with Jarvis Landry. For years, the Steelers tried to find a suitable running mate for Brown before landing on JuJu Smith Schuster. An offense featuring Brown, Landry and Le’Veon Bell could have been enough for the Steelers to reach another Super Bowl. Now, none of those players wear black and yellow. Oh what could have been.

Cowboys logo16. Dallas Cowboys
Original pick: Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame
New selection: Trai Turner, OL, LSU

With Zack Martin off the board, Dallas opts for the next best interior lineman remaining in Trai Turner. While certainly less heralded than Martin, Turner is a beast in his own right. He has featured in four-straight Pro Bowls for keeping Cam Newton upright and powering the Panthers run game. Keeping Tony Romo clean was the priority at this point and that would not change when Dak Prescott came to town.

Ravens logo17. Baltimore Ravens
Original pick: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
New selection: Telvin Smith, LB, Florida State

While the Jaguars run to the AFC Championship in 2017 probably seemed like a fluke, it was actually due to some very savvy drafting. Telvin Smith, who was a 5th rounder taken by Jacksonville in 2014, was one of the breakout stars for that Jaguars defense. He had a less impressive 2018, but with C.J. Mosley off the board, Baltimore would need a sure tackler to provide some playmaking on the defensive side of the ball. Smith certainly fits the bill.

Jets logo18. New York Jets
Original pick: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
New selection: Dee Ford, Edge, Auburn

The Jets struck out on the “Louisville Slugger.” New York traded Calvin Pryor prior to the 2017 season after just three years with the team. Instead, the Jets will finally fill a long-standing void in their defense by drafting Dee Ford. He missed extended time in 2017, but reached double-digit sacks in both 2016 and 2018. New York has had one player reach double-digit sacks since 2013 (Muhammad Wilkerson in 2015). This fills a huge need.

Dolphins logo19. Miami Dolphins
Original pick: Ja’Wuan James, OT, Tennessee
New selection: Charles Leno, OT, Boise State

Meet the biggest riser in this redraft. Charles Leno has been a stalwart for the Bears offensive line over the past four seasons. He hasn’t missed a start in the past three years and reached the Pro Bowl in 2018. The Dolphins hoped Ju’waun James could develop into their starting left tackle, but he is now the starting right tackle in Denver. Leno would anchor the left side of the line for Miami and maybe even keep Ryan Tannehill healthy.

Arizona_Cardnals_logo_(1994-2004)20. Arizona Cardinals (traded to Saints)
Original pick: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
New selection: LaMarcus Joyner, S, Florida State

Arizona traded back and eventually picked up Deone Bucannon. He never really caught on, so the Cardinals opt for a player the rival Rams eventually selected. LaMarcus Joyner displayed a decent amount of versatility for St. Louis before being traded to Oakland. He would have made a very fun running mate for Tyrann Mathieu and completed a dominant secondary in Arizona also featuring Patrick Peterson.

Packers logo21. Green Bay Packers
Original pick: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
New selection: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State

It’s tough to know what to make of Brandin Cooks. On one hand, Cooks was a key contributor during his three seasons in New Orleans. On the other, he was traded after the 2016 season to New England. They did land a 1st round pick in that deal. The Patriots then sent Cooks to the Rams, again for a 1st rounder. Green Bay opted to add Davante Adams in the second round, so receiver was a clear position they hoped to fill. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was shipped out for a fourth round pick this season. Even if the Packers traded Cooks, they would get a better return on their investment.

Eagles Logo22. Philadelphia Eagles (traded to Browns)
Original pick: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
New selection: Christian Kirksey, LB, Iowa

The Eagles originally drafted Marcus Smith, who never started a game for Philly before being shipped off to Seattle. Instead, Chip Kelly (yes he was the head coach at the time) selects current Browns linebacker Christian Kirksey. In his two full seasons as a starter, Kirksey racked up 281 tackles, including 17 for loss. He missed half of the 2018 season with an injury, but when healthy, he is an important cog for an underrated Browns front seven. With a talented offense already in place, bolstering the defense could have made the Kelly years a little more bearable.

Chiefs Logo23. Kansas City Chiefs
Original pick: Dee Ford, Edge, Auburn
New pick: Malcom Butler, CB, West Alabama

Say what you want about Malcom Butler, he is still a solid NFL corner. He likely won’t reach the level he played at during his short stint as a starter in New England, but the Chiefs wouldn’t need him to. The thing that prevented Kansas City from reaching the Super Bowl this season was its pass defense. Butler would slot in well as No. 2 corner for Kansas City going forward.

Bengals Logo24. Cincinnati Bengals
Original pick: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
New selection: Joel Bitonio, OL, Nevada

The Bengals have had a bit of tendency for missing on 1st round corners. With Malcolm Butler and Kyle Fuller gone, Cincy opts to bolster its offensive line, which has struggled in recent years. Joel Bitonio might not be a household name, most guards aren’t, but Pro Football Focus rated him as the No. 5 guard in the league last season. Protecting Andy Dalton and opening holes for Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard and now Joe Mixon could have pushed the Bengals further during their playoff appearances in 2014 and 2015.

Chargers logo25. San Diego Chargers
Original pick: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
New selection: Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State

Jason Verrett is supremely talented. He was named a Pro Bowler in 2015, but injuries limited him to just 23 games in five seasons with the Chargers. He joined the 49ers this offseason. Instead, San Diego (who hadn’t relocated yet) adds Devonta Freeman to help take some pressure of Philip Rivers. Melvin Gordon didn’t get to town until two years later and the Chargers could use an upgrade over the often injured Ryan Matthews, who was off the team after 2014 anyway. Freeman missed most of the 2018 season with injury himself, but from 2015 to 2017, he racked up 3,000 yards rushing and 29 rushing touchdowns. He also caught at least 30 passes in his first four seasons, including 74 in 2016. Freeman would be a welcome addition to a high-powered San Diego offense.

Browns logo26. Cleveland Browns (traded to Eagles)
Original pick: Marcus Smith, LB Louisville
New selection: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State

I don’t need to go over how poorly Johnny Manziel worked out. While the Browns seem to finally have found their savior in Baker Mayfield, Cleveland desperately needed a quarterback in 2014. Derek Carr is the best one available. He has a somewhat uneven career, but he would be a massive upgrade over anyone the Browns started from 2014 to 2017. His career interception percentage (1.9) is lower than Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Cam Newton and Joe Flacco. It’s on par with Russell Wilson. Carr can take care of the ball and put up solid numbers, often times without much of a supporting cast.

Saints logo27. New Orleans Saints (traded to Cardinals)
Original pick: Deone Bucannon, DB, Washington State
New selection: Brandon Linder, OL, Miami

While the Saints definitely had a clear need at receiver, trading up to draft Brandin Cooks, New Orleans also desperately needed a center. The team sent Jimmy Graham to Seattle in exchange for Max Unger as a result. Brandon Linder just so happens to be the No. 5 center in the league in 2018 according to Pro Football Focus. His addition fills an important need and allows the Saints to keep Graham. Linder also has some versatility as a guard, making him even more of a value pick for New Orleans.

Panthers logo28. Carolina Panthers
Original pick: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
New selection: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

This was quite a drop for Sammy Watkins from fourth overall to 28th. However, Watkins is the type of player the Panthers hoped they were getting when they took Kelvin Benjamin. He has the size and speed to stretch the field. Watkins is far from a great receiver, but considering he had over 2,000 yards receiving and 15 touchdowns during his first two seasons, he had a lot of potential. Playing with Cam Newton might have done more to keep that fast start going than playing with the all-star cast of Tyrod Taylor, EJ Manuel and Kyle Orton in Buffalo.

Patriots Logo29. New England Patriots
Original pick: Dominique Easley, DL, Florida
New selection: Gabe Jackson, G, Mississippi State

Pretty much every 1st round pick feels a little bit like a luxury pick for the Patriots, but with Dan Connelly turning 32 during the 2014 season, New England looks to build its offensive line depth. Gabe Jackson has been a solid starter for the Raiders for the past five seasons. He might not be a huge need, but given that Dominique Easley never panned out, Jackson provides a lot more value for a Patriots team that seems to have offensive line turnover every year.

49ers Logo30. San Francisco 49ers
Original pick: Jimmie Ward, DB, NIU
New selection: Avery Williamson, LB, Kentucky

Injuries and inconsistency prevented Jimmie Ward from ever truly catching on. The 49ers have been trying to find a middle linebacker for years on top of that, Avery Williamson struggles at times in pass coverage, but he is a thumper of a tackler. Pro Football Focus ranked him as a top-20 linebacker in 2018 with the Jets. He would fill a void for the 49ers and prevent future draft mistakes such as Ramon Foster.

Denver_Broncos31. Denver Broncos
Original pick: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
New selection: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State

I strongly considered picking Teddy Bridgewater here given Peyton Manning being in the twilight of his career. Denver still had a mostly unproven Brock Osweiler on the roster, whom the team had spent a second round pick on in 2012. He never turned into the starter, but I can’t see the Broncos investing a 1st round pick in a quarterback so soon after and with Manning coming off the best statistical season in NFL history. As a result, Denver sticks with Bradley Roby, who, despite his one-contract tenure, played a pivotal role in 2016’s Super Bowl run. Roby was the nickel corner for that dominant Denver defense. While he may now be in Houston, his role for those five years is something the Broncos would sign up for again.

Seahawks logo32. Seattle Seahawks (traded to Vikings)
Original pick: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
New pick: Ja’Wuan James, OT, Tennessee

The defending champs traded out of the 1st round and allowed Minnesota to swoop in for Teddy Bridgewater. There is a chance the Seahawks would drop out again, but Ju’waun James fills a need for Seattle. They selected Justin Britt at the end of the second round to start at right tackle. James would have been a much better option and hopefully helped avoid the steady deterioration of that Seahawks line that took place over the next few seasons. Since 2014, the Seattle has ranked in the top 10 in sacks allowed every season. Some of that is based on how Russell Wilson plays, but a lot of it is a total inability to protect him. Starting James at right tackle from day one would provide some stability on that side of the line.

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Fixing the NBA season

Alright, let’s be honest. The NBA regular season was more entertaining than I expected with the Bucks taking a huge next step and the Nuggets coming out of nowhere. I definitely stand corrected on my initial take that the season was not worth watching.

That being said, there are still some major issues with the NBA regular season. It doesn’t really mean much. Between the 82 games and excessive number of playoff teams with 7 game series in the postseason, it really diminishes the value of performing well in the regular season.

Last year offers a clear example of this issue. The Rockets and Raptors earned one seeds in each conference. The Cavs entered as the 4 seed and still made it to the finals. It took 7-game series for Golden State and Cleveland in the conference finals, but the two best teams still made it through to the finals (well the two best teams that could, the Rockets and Warriors were the best two teams in the league overall).

In short, the regular season is too long. 82 games is unnecessary to determine who the best teams are. 16 teams is too many for the playoffs and history shows how little success those bottom seeds have in the postseason. The reason for the limited success is the format of a 7-game series in every round. Let’s fix that and set the league up to be even more entertaining in the future.

Cutting down regular season to 60 games

800px-adam_silver_281584700477129
NBA commissioner Adam Silver is considering the idea of altering the league schedule and game rules. (Wikimedia Commons)

This has been a complaint for quite a long time. The NBA regular season is far too long to hold fans interest the whole way. There are highlights to the schedule, but 16 divisional games and 62 games in the conference. It is completely unnecessary to have that many matchups between conference foes is excessive. The solution is to cut down on the regular season. Before you call me crazy, this is very possible. Adam Silver is considering shortening the season and games.

82 is an arbitrary number. 60 might sound like another random number, but it actually works really well for scheduling purposes. With 30 teams in the NBA, each team will play two games against each of the other 29 teams (English Premier League style). That only adds up to 58 games, so then each team will play against the two teams that finished in the same divisional position as them in their conference, which is exactly what the NFL does.

What does this accomplish? This almost entirely eliminates strength of schedule, which doesn’t really have much use in the NBA. It is great to see in college basketball, but not needed in the pros. A 60-game schedule also creates more incentive to win every game.

Take a look in recent years at how many teams rest their top players (now frequently dubbed Load Management to avoid league fines). Just 7 players started all 82 games this season. That speaks volumes about the length of the season. Tons of teams chose to rest their stars players throughout the regular season to maximize effort and health in the playoffs. That also underlines the issues of general wear and tear NBA players deal with. Even if players are not resting, we see so many players missing games or strings of games due to minor injuries. Blake Griffin missed a win-and-in final game of the season due to knee soreness, likely due to overuse.

There is some evidence that shorter seasons might really help keep top players on the court for more games. The 2011-12 season was shortened to 66 games due to a lockout. 15 players started in all 66 games that season. That is not a huge uptick, especially looking at the next season, which had the same number of players starting every game in an 82-game season. You have to wonder though if the previous season being shorter, possibly reduced the overall wear and tear on players. In the 2013-14, the number of players dipped back down to just 12. It has continued to drop since then, bottoming out in the 2016-17 season when only five players started every game.

Go back further to the lockout season of 1998-99 and we start to see some significant differences. 39 players started all 50 games in that regular season. The following year, back to a 82-game slate, 27 players started every game. It went down to just 20 by the 2000-01 season. There is no denying this trend, and a shorter season is likely the best way to maximize the number of top players appearing in every game. The NBA is a star-driven league and the best version of the product is when more stars are on the court.

Reducing the number of playoff teams to 12

800px-giannis_antetokounmpo_282484500368729
Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks blew out the Pistons 121-86 in Game 1 of their 1st round series. (Wikimedia Commons)

For some odd reason, the NBA has more than half the league reach the postseason. It really doesn’t make any sense. The lower-seeded teams almost never make a run to the Finals. It is rare for the bottom two seeds in each conference to even advance to the second round.

It has been seven years since a seven or eight-seed won a playoff series. Since the NBA moved to a seven-game series in the first round back in 2003, there have only been four times where the one or two seed failed to reach the second round. That means the higher seed in those series won 93.3 percent of the time. I get there is always a chance for an upset, but after watching Game 1 of the Bucks-Pistons series, I am pretty sure it isn’t worth it.

For a frame of reference, the NHL has the exact same set up, with 16 teams qualifying for the postseason, eight from each conference. They play seven games in each series. In the same time frame, the last 15 years, a bottom-two seed advanced to the next round 17 times (I considered the “wild cards” the NHL now uses 7 and 8 seeds.) Comparatively, NHL 7 and 8 seeds pulled off the upset 28.3 percent of the time, while NBA 7 and 8 seeds made it out of the first round just 6.6 percent of the time. NHL teams have a fighting chance. The NBA feels like a forgone conclusion.

With that in mind, it’s time to reformat the playoffs. Moving to a 12-team setup means the top-two seeds in each conference would receive a first-round bye. To avoid making that too much of a competitive advantage for the top-seeds, the first round should be cut to just three-game series once again. The NBA actually did this back before it expanded to 16 teams. The higher seed still has home-court advantage, hosting the first and third games. At most, this would give the top seeds a week off to get healthy, somewhat like the NFL giving it’s top two seeds in each conference a first-round bye.

This adds further incentive to the regular season, with earning a top-two seed now a priority for each team. It also would mean we trim the mediocre teams making the playoffs from the picture. Ideally, this should reduce the overall wear and tear on players as well.

Suddenly, the playoffs are much more competitive and intriguing from the start. A best-of-three series this season between the 76ers and Nets would be amazingly intense. As would Celtics-Pacers and Blazers-Thunder. The margin for error is shaved down immensely and provides an exciting introduction to the postseason, rather than the lackluster games we’ve seen so far (although that Raptors-Magic finish was pretty sweet).

After the initial three-game series, the ensuing rounds would all be best-of-seven affairs. Once we work our way down to the final 8 teams in the league, it is worth it to watch some extra basketball and see the drama unfold over a long series.

Change draft lottery odds

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Instead of playing a brutal 1st-round playoff series, the bottom seeds in each conference could have a chance to draft one of Duke’s incredible freshmen. (Wikimedia Commons)

One of the biggest issues the NBA has had to fight is teams tanking in order to secure a better draft pick. The league has the draft lottery in place to limit the incentive to lose. It even made some tweaks recently to dissuade teams even further by giving the teams with the worst three records the same odds of landing the top pick.

However, under my proposed system, there would be 18 teams in the lottery as opposed to the previous 14. That is going to require different odds to land the top pick.

The new odds would be as follows:
3 worst records – 11 percent
4th-worst record – 9 percent
5th-worst record – 8 percent
6th-worst record – 7 percent
7th, 8th, 9th-worst record – 6 percent
10th-worst record – 5 percent
11th, 12th, 13th, 14th-worst record – 3 percent
15th, 16th, 17th, 18th-worst record – 2 percent

A new lottery system would hopefully increase parity in the league by reducing the temptation to tank. It could also lead to significant playoff turnover from year-to-year if teams who came close to qualifying for the playoffs land a top-tier college player. Imagine what the expectations would be for the Clippers if they added Zion or Ja Morant.

These new odds also increase the chance for the teams who just missed the playoffs to land the top pick. In this scenario, the Spurs, represented as the last team to miss the postseason cutoff, would have a two percent chance to land Zion Williamson. The Charlotte Hornets, who were actually the last team to miss the postseason this year, only have a 0.5 percent chance. It is small, but this change is significant. That’s the difference between having 200-1 odds and 50-1 odds.

It might be a little tricky then for the teams truly lacking talent to build their way back up, but it would require shrewd drafting and smart team building, overall increasing the competitive landscape of the league.

Looking ahead

Obviously, these would be some drastic changes for the league to undertake all in one year. It would probably need to be spread out over time.

There are some obvious financial issues that would come up as well. Fewer games being played each season likely means less lucrative television contracts. However, producing a better night-to-night product could replace some of the value lost in terms of volume of games to sell. Additionally, Silver is rumored to be interested in adding some sort of midseason tournament as well, which could potentially offer another incentive for television deals.

The only thing that seems clear is that change is on the horizon for the NBA. Silver has proven to be one of the most open-minded and progressive commissioners in sports history, willing to push the envelope on what is accepted and use other sports as an inspiration for change. With the league looking to embrace the future, there is no doubt resetting the competitive format is the place to start.

A Beginner’s Guide to Major League Soccer

First some basic facts about Major League Soccer (MLS), and then some reasons to watch MLS in 2019. Feel free to skip around as you see fit. Check here to see when each team plays their first game of the season.

The Basics

MLS is the top division of soccer in the United States. In general, MLS is caught at a nexus between the traditions/practices of other American sports leagues, most notably the NFL (Don Garber, MLS Commissioner, used to work in the NFL), and the traditions/practices of European Soccer (Premiere League, Bundesliga, La Liga, etc.). I’ll try to frame every aspect of the league through these two lenses.

Regular Season

MLS was founded in 1996 with 8 teams and has expanded to 24 teams in 2019, 21 American teams and 3 Canadian teams. Like other American sports, the league is divided into conferences: Eastern and Western. Each team will play teams of the same conference twice a season and teams of the opposite conference once a season. The regular season runs from March to October. This is in contrast to most soccer leagues in the world which run from August to May. The league claims that it could not run a “Winter Schedule” due to some cities such as Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Minneapolis, Denver, etc. whose matches might not be able to be played in the cold/snow (The league is well-off these days but not so well off to afford retractable roofs over stadiums).

Playoffs

Unlike European soccer, MLS has playoffs at the end of the season. In 2019, MLS will run playoffs mostly in October and November. The playoff format changes every couple of years as the league expands. In 2019, 7 teams from each conference will make the playoffs. The first place team of each conference receives a first round bye. 14/24 teams making the playoffs is quite a large percentage relative to other American sports. For reference, 12/32 NFL teams make the playoffs. The league claims to allow so many teams in the playoffs to keep games late in the season competitive. I believe this goal is accomplished as many teams are not mathematically eliminated until approximately September. Without the playoffs, teams at the bottom of the league would be playing for nothing for half of the season since there is no promotion/relegation (pro/rel).

Lack of Promotion and Relegation

For those that do not know, European soccer countries have a multi-tiered league system. For example, there are four professional leagues in England. At the end of the season, the three teams that finish last in the top league are relegated (think “re-leagued”) to the second league. Then the three best teams of the second league are promoted (self-explanatory) to the first division. In a promotion/relegation system, the teams at the bottom of the league are still playing competitively at the end of the season because they do not want to be relegated. Without getting too into, being relegated loses a team a lot of money commercially so players on relegated teams are playing for their jobs. There are many people in American soccer who believe MLS should change to a pro/rel system, but that’s a discussion for another time (I would really like to write on this at some point).

Single Entity

The biggest reason MLS won’t switch to a pro/rel system is that MLS is a single-entity league, similar to other American sports, but unlike European soccer. Off the field, this means that MLS often operates as one business. For example, the league negotiates the jersey deal with Adidas. In Europe, individual teams negotiate jersey deals with the company of their choice. On the field, it means that each team is given a similar level of resources every year to build their team.

Parity

Big European clubs like the Manchesters, Munichs, and Madrids of the world are able to use a lot more money to build their roster relative to their competitors at the bottom of their respective leagues. MLS teams are given a salary cap (better described as a salary budget) which they must adhere to. This salary budget acts as an equalizer to make more games competitive between teams across the league. Thus the drop off from the best MLS team to the worst is not as far as the drop-off from the best Premiere League team to the worst. People will often refer to this concept as “parity” in MLS: that any team has a legitimate chance of winning any game.

MLS Salary Budget

This equalizing factor, the MLS salary budget, is similar to the NFL’s salary cap but more flexible. NFL teams have a maximum they are allowed to spend and that line is a hard limit which cannot be surpassed. MLS teams have a few mechanisms which allow them to break that upper barrier.

Designated Players

The most famous of which is the Designated Player (DP). Originally referred to as the David Beckham rule, the DP rule allows each team to have 3 players (originally only 1 player) who do not count towards the salary cap. This allowed the LA Galaxy to pay Beckham more money that the entirety of the salary cap. There is no upward limit on how much a DP can be payed.

GAM and TAM

There are another four ways to pay players without hurting the salary cap. two of them are General Allocation Money and Targeted Allocation Money (GAM and TAM) which can pay part of a player’s salary, lessening that player’s cap hit. GAM can be used on players making less than the max salary charge ( ~$500,000; in general I’m simplifying these numbers) and TAM can be used on players making more than the max salary charge (Between $500,000 – $1,500,000). Any player making more than $1,500,000 must be a DP.

For example, if Player X is making $300,000 a team can used $100,000 in GAM to make that player’s cap hit $200,000. This is relatively straight forward. Teams can get really creative when they pay down a TAM-level player. For example, if Player Y is making $700,000 a team has to pay at least $200,000 with TAM in order to comply with roster rules. Alternatively, the team could use $400,000 in TAM to lower his cap hit to $300,000, saving $200,000 of cap space which can be used elsewhere on the roster. TAM is relatively new to the league and was introduced to fill the talent gap between DPs and the rest of MLS. The amount of TAM in the league has increased almost every year for the last few years.

Homegrowns and Generation Adidas

Outside of DPs, GAM, and TAM, MLS teams can sign Homegrown (HG) players and Generation Adidas (GA) players whose salaries will not count against the cap. HG players are players who came through an MLS academy. A player has to be in a teams academy for at least one year to be eligible for HG status. MLS academies were started 10 years ago and are just not starting to churn out pretty solid talent (Alphonso Davies just got traded to Bayern for $12 million, Tyler Adams just got traded to RB Leipzig for $3 million, Ballou-Tabla was traded to Barcelona for an undisclosed fee). GA players are high draft pick players that the league wants a team to sign and so the league signs the player before they get drafted. That sounds shadier than it is. GA players are pretty much HG players who didn’t come through an MLS academy but through a different academy. So rather than having a bidding war for these players, they come through the draft at an affordable price. Keeping these players’ salaries off of the cap encourages teams to develop domestic talent.

Why watch MLS?

While the quality of play in MLS is improving every year, and the injection of TAM has accelerated that process, the level of play is decidedly higher at big European clubs. However, if there is an MLS team in your market, you have more access to those games that European games. A drive to the local stadium costs a lot less than a flight to Madrid.

Supporting Local Soccer

The optimal scenario is that your local soccer club plays at a high level. If you want that to happen, then you need to support your local soccer club. The level of play in MLS won’t change if people do not support their local teams. Guaranteed it won’t happen overnight. MLS was essentially a semi-pro league when it formed in 1996, and 23 years later people are starting to compare it to some low-to-middle European leagues (Scottish Premiere League, English Championship, Scandinavian leagues). Who knows, maybe in another 20 years it could be on the level of a Serie A or Ligue 1. However, that does not happen if people do not support the league. Not to mention that your local team has a legit shot of winning the league due to the parity mentioned above.

Recognizable Names

The tired answer to “Why watch MLS?” is that they have old European stars that you might never see otherwise. While the league has had mild success shaking off the “retirement league” label, there are still some older European players coming over and they do help draw bigger crowds. Zlatan Ibrahimovic plays for the LA Galaxy, Wayne Rooney plays for DC United, Bacary Sagna plays for Montreal. Players with recognizable names do bring out bigger crowds. The hope is that those crowds stick around after the player leaves.

Young Exciting Players

Lastly, MLS is trying to rebrand itself as a selling league. A league where young players get to prove that they’re ready for bigger and better things. I already mentioned academy players who have moved on to Europe; MLS teams are also bringing in young Central and South American talent for < $10 million with the hopes to sell them for > $10 million. Miguel Almiron is the prototype of this. Atlanta United bought Almiron for $8 million and just sold him for $27 million. Similarly, Atlanta bought Barco for $15 million, RBNY bought Kaku for $7 million, NYCFC bought Medina for $4 million, etc. Now, instead of seeing old European players after their prime, you can see young North/South/Central American players before their prime. With the money teams get from selling these young players they can improve their club, their stadiums, their academies, etc. Then over time, the teams can buy players with bigger and bigger price tags.

Some might argue that “we shouldn’t be a selling league, we should be a buying league”. While this is preferable, the reality of it is that there are only 5 “buying” leagues in the world. And even in those leagues, there are really only 4-8 teams that are “buying” teams. After that top echelon of elite soccer teams, every team in the world is a selling team. The way you climb to that level is by producing and selling really good players. Look at Tottenham who recently started to compete with that upper echelon. They did that by selling Gareth Bale for $100 million dollars to Real Madrid. Then in 2018 they had like 10 players reach the World Cup semi-finals between the Belgium and England rosters.

Of course, it will take time for Alphoso Davies’ $12 million to turn into Bale’s $100 million, and it won’t happen at all if people don’t watch the league. So check out when you local clubs plays at the beginning of March, buy a scarf, and check your local TV listings.

Come back for more MLS and USMNT content!

Predictions for Berhalter’s USMNT in March

The upcoming March USMNT friendlies against Ecuador (March 21st @ 8:00pm) and Chile (March 26th @ 8:00 pm) will be a step up in quality and difficulty from the January games. Here are my predictions/questions/things to look out for from those friendlies:

Berhalter will call in a European-centric roster supplemented by players who understand his system.

Many are predicting that Berhalter will call in a theoretical best squad possible for these March friendlies. I don’t think that is necessarily the case. Berhalter was able to call-in most of the domestic players he wanted to in January (some players like Altidore and Morris are recovering from injury but even they stopped by to visit). He has yet to see any European-based player in camp yet. I think that he will want to strike a balance between giving as many European-based players an opportunity to prove themselves and calling in enough players from January who understand his system in order to help teach the system to the European-based players. Now, that blend of players may also be the best possible roster Berhalter can call-in, but I don’t feel ready to make that assumption. Before I give you the 23 (maybe more?) I think he’ll call-in, I need to make another prediction.

Berhalter will stick with his Guardiola-esque 4-4-2/3-2-2-3 formation. 

In the games against Panama and Costa Rica Berhalter had the USMNT playing a unique formation. In defense, it looked like a 4-4-2, where the top “2” players pressed the opposing team’s CBs and the wing players in the midfield “4” selectively pressed as the ball entered their area and the other 6 players made a formidable defensive block. In attack, this formation shifted quite a bit into a 3-2-2-3. You can see how that shift happened below.Essentially, from Defense to Attack, Mihailovic moved back, while Ebobisse, Baird, Roldan, and Lima all pushed up (These names are from the starting lineup against Panama)

4-4-2 (Defense)

Mihailovic – Zardes

Ebobisse – Bradley – Roldan – Baird

Lovitz – Long – Zimmerann – Lima

Steffen

3-2-2-3 (Attack)

Ebobisse – Zardes – Baird

Mihailovice – Roldan

Bradley – Lima

Lovitz – Long – Zimmerann

Steffen

In an interview after the January camp, Berhalter mentioned that he preferred this system because it allows for the US to get numbers forward in attack without sending our fullbacks forward. He believes that sending our fullbacks forward on overlaps will leave the defense overly exposed which is punished more at the international level. Therefore, assuming that Berhalter will continue to play this system he will be looking for specific attributes at each position:

  • A GK who’s comfortable with the ball at his feet
  • CBs who are quick passers/ can make line splitting passes.
  • A RB who can move up and play CM
  • A LB who can also play CB
  • A CDM who can make line-splitting passes
  • Advanced Midfielders who can run a lot, have some level of creativity
  • Wingers who can defend and send in smart crosses
  • A striker who can get physical with the other team’s defense and put away tap-in goals

With that in mind, here’s the 23+ I think Berhalter will call-in

Goalkeepers (3)– Zac Steffen, Ethan Horvath, Sean Johnson

Just missed the cut: Brad Guzan, Jonathan Klinsmann, Brady Scott

  • Steffen needs the caps in order to secure his work permit and join Manchester City this summer so his inclusion is a given. Plus Steffen is quite familiar with Berhalter’s system.
  • Horvath is the only notable American GK playing in Europe these days.
  • Johnson seemed like the No. 2 behind Steffen in January so he wins the third spot.
  • Klinsmann is a 3rd string ‘keeper for Hertha Berlin and Scott was the US U-20 ‘keeper last November, and is on Koln’s roster. Neither has seen any first team minutes.
  • Guzan is still in the picture but he doesn’t play in Europe and he wasn’t present in January Camp so he’s not in this camp.

Defenders (8) – Aaron Long, John Brooks, Matt Miazga, Nick Lima, DeAndre Yedlin, Tyler Adams, Tim Ream, Daniel Lovitz

Just missed the cut: Antonee Robinson, Cameron Carter-Vickers (CCV), Walker Zimmerman, Erik Palmer-Brown EPB), Shaq Moore, Graham Zusi, Matt Besler, Sergino Dest, Chris Gloster, Chris Richards

  • Long beats Zimmermann as Long captained the USMNT for both January Camp games and I think Berhalter will want that continuity in the next camp.
  • Lima and Lovitz are there to help teach the system.
  • Brooks and Miazga have the most talent of our CBs in Europe and beat out CCV, and EPB.
  • Yes I have Tyler Adams at RB because he has experience at RB and CM which is what Berhalter wants out of his RB. Lima is there to teach the role and Yedlin is there because of his talent. I wouldn’t be shocked if Yedlin becomes a winger as Bobby Warshaw has suggested.
  • Then, Ream wins the LB/CB spot since he has experience at both positions. Plus our only other LB option, Robinson, isn’t much of a CB and he hasn’t featured for his club team since getting injured in November. An injury which had a 4 week recover timeline. It’s been about 10 weeks since that injury …
  • I include Besler and Zusi under “Just Missed the Cut” because I think Zusi would fit well at RB/CM and Besler would fit well at LB/CB but, similarly to Guzan, neither play in Europe nor were they present in January Camp.
  • Dest (just signed for Ajax), Gloster (plays for Hannover’s B team), and Richards (plays for Bayern’s B team) are all U-20 players who might get a shot ala Mihailovic in January. All three will definitely feature for the US in this summer’s U-20 World Cup.

Midfielders (9) – Michael Bradley, Wil Trapp, Weston McKennie, Christian Pulisic, Timo Weah, Cristian Roldan, Paul Arriola, Fabian Johnson, Jonathan Amon

Just missed the Cut: Duane Holmes, Danny Williams, Alfredo Morales, Alex Mendez, Richie Ledezma, Romain Gall, Julian Green, Kellyn Accosta, Sebastian Lletget, Djorde Mihailovic, Luca De La Torre,

  • Bradley, Trapp, Roldan, and Arriola are here to teach the system. I think Bradley makes the starting XI but I’m less sure about the rest.
  • Pulisic, Weah, and McKennie are all young and talented and are practically “must-call-in” players if not “must-start” players. I think Pulisic and Weah feature on the wing and McKennie features in the middle, taking the place of Mihailovic. I wouldn’t be shocked in Weah plays striker rather than wing.
  • Amon is more of a flyer than anything else. He looked good in his friendly appearances last fall. I could see any of the “Just Missed the Cut” players taking that spot. If not Amon, it would be cool to see Holmes get his first call-up.
  • I see a lot of analysts putting Lletget into their 23-man rosters. I think that he’s there if this is a “best possible squad” camp, because he’s talented and provided assists in both January games. However, Berhalter said he was slow to pick-up the tactics, which is why he started on the bench for both of those January games. And if the point of this camp is to teach European players the system/give them a shot to learn the system, I think adding Lletget and taking away someone like Amon or Holmes would be unfair. By no means am I saying that Lletget doesn’t have a spot on this team in the future, just not in this camp.
  • Williams, Morales, Gall, Green, and De La Torre are a mixed bag of less talented players but who knows! Maybe Berhalter sees a role for them.
  • Accosta was cut from last camp and Berhalter was pretty vocal about him not being fit enough and didn’t pick up the system well enough. Similar to Lletget, it’d be unfair to our European players for him to take up a roster spot when he already had an opportunity to learn the system.
  • Ledezma (just signed for PSV) and Mendez (Plays for Freiburg’s B team) are also U-20 players who will definitely feature in the U-20 World Cup and might get a shot. These two would both fit Berhalter’s advanced midfielder role very well.

Forwards (3) – Gyassi Zardes, Josh Sargent, Andy Novakovich

Just Missed the Cut: Bobby Wood, Jozy Altidore, Christian Ramirez, Jordan Morris, Sebastian Soto

  • Zardes is here to help teach the system.
  • Perhaps my boldest prediction here is that Novakovich beats out Wood for a call-up. I think Novakovich will really fit what Berhalter wants, a big physical striker who is good with his feet. Novakovich’s biggest weakness is that he is slow but I don’t believe Berhalter’s system relies on the speed of it’s striker as much as their physicality.
  • Sargent is an obvious pick as he’s seeing minutes in the Bundesliga as a teenager.
  • Wood is a solid striker but I’m not sure he’ll fit what Berhalter is looking for.
  • Similar to other players mentioned above, Jozy and Jordan Morris miss out because they don’t play in Europe and didn’t play in January.
  • Ramirez loses to Zardes for the “he knows Berhalter’s system spot” because Zardes has a full year under Berhalter while Ramirez just has a few weeks.
  • Soto (plays for Hannover’s B team) is another young player who will definitely feature in the U-20 World Cup this summer.

Given the players named above here would be my starting lineup:

4-4-2 (Defense)

McKennie – Zardes

Weah – Bradley – Roldan – Pulisic

Ream – Brooks – Long – Adams

Steffen

3-2-2-3 (Attack)

Weah – Zardes – Pulisic

McKennie – Roldan

Bradley – Adams

Ream – Brooks – Long

Steffen

Subs: Horvath, Lima, Miazga, Arriola, Trapp, Sargent, Holmes

This set-up is more likely for the first game as it keeps a spine of players who played in January (Zardes, Roldan, Bradley, Long, Steffen). I could easily see Sargent or Novakovich over Zardes. I also wouldn’t be shocked to see Adams in the midfield over Roldan, and then Lima again at RB/CM. I also wouldn’t be shocked if Miazga starts over Long. Theoretically, Long could play LB/CB instead of Ream if Berhalter wants to squeeze his leadership onto the pitch. I think Pulisic will do more damage on the wing in this set-up. You could even throw Weah up top, Pulisic on the left wing, and then put DeAndre Yedlin on the right wing. The possibilities are truly endless.

Lastly, as you can see I included a ton of players under “Just Missed the Cut” so I would not be shocked if more than 23 players get called into camp but then some/many either leave or do not feature in the games.

Check back here for a breakdown of how the games against Ecuador and Chile went!

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.