Jordan Morris

by A.J. Coltrane

On Monday night the Sounders advanced to the Western Conference Finals with a tense 0-0 tie at CenturyLink. (No, really. It was *tense*.) The Sounders will play the Galaxy on the 23rd and 30th. The winner goes to the actual Finals.

Which makes this next bit interesting to me:  The U.S. squad has a couple of friendlies coming up,

The U.S. takes on No. 3-ranked Colombia on Friday at 2:45 p.m. ET in London at Craven Cottage with more than 20,000 tickets already sold. On Nov. 18, the U.S. team will play Ireland for the first time since 2002 at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium, beginning at 2:45 p.m. ET.

Dempsey was left off the squad. DeAndre Yedlin is making the trip, though it looks like he’ll have time for adequate rest before the games with the Galaxy.

The U.S. roster:

Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Greg Garza (Club Tijuana), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach), Jermaine Jones (New England Revolution), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders FC)

Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Julian Green (Hamburg), Alfredo Morales (Ingolstadt), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Miguel Ibarra (Minnesota United FC), Jordan Morris (Stanford), Rubio Rubin (Utrecht), Bobby Wood (1860 Munich), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

One name on the list sticks out – Stanford student Jordan Morris. I figured I’d look into whatever his story is a little bit.

As it turns out he’s a 20 year-old member of the Seattle Sounders Academy. He was born in Seattle and graduated from Mercer Island High. He’s a sophomore at Stanford — bio is here.

I think it’s pretty cool that the Sounders Academy has produced two potential National Team members in a short period of time. Here’s hoping that the Northwest will continue to represent a rich pipeline of talent, and that it will funnel through the Sounders.

Jordan Morris

DeAndre Yedlin Is Fast

by A.J. Coltrane

Here’s a link to a post about Andre Yedlin and what it says about the future of US soccer. [ESPN/Grantland]

What got my attention was this paragraph:

Today, it’s easy to look at Yedlin — 5-foot-8 and thick-chested, and able to outrun the best soccer players in the world — and imagine him on an NFL roster. He could be Darren Sproles, leaving linebackers grasping at air, or he could be Tyrann Mathieu, another Mohawked terror with a knack for separating offensive players from the ball. In college, Yedlin was clocked at about 4.2 seconds in the 40-yard dash. And, says his college coach, Caleb Porter, “It’s about a lot more than top-end speed. It’s his burst, his ability to go from a jog to a sprint before you even realize what has just happened.” His athleticism, Porter says, “is truly world-class.”

(Emphasis mine.)

If he really ran a 4.2 it’d make him about as fast as anyone in the NFL. That’s fringe Olympic sprinter speed. The top combine times since 2009:

Time Name Height Weight Year
4.24 Rondel Melendez 5 ft 9 in (175 cm) 192 lb (87 kg) 1999
4.24 Chris Johnson 5 ft 11 in (180 cm) 192 lb (87 kg) 2008
4.25 Tavon Austin 5 ft 8 in (173 cm) 178 lb (81 kg) 2013
4.26 Jerome Mathis 5 ft 11 in (180 cm) 184 lb (83 kg) 2005
4.26 Dri Archer 5 ft 8 in (173 cm) 173 lb (78 kg) 2014
4.27 Stanford Routt 6 ft 2 in (188 cm) 193 lb (88 kg) 2005
4.27 Marquise Goodwin 5 ft 10 in (178 cm) 181 lb (82 kg) 2013
4.28 Champ Bailey 6 ft 0 in (183 cm) 192 lb (87 kg) 1999
4.28 Jacoby Ford 5 ft 9 in (175 cm) 190 lb (86 kg) 2010
4.28 DeMarcus Van Dyke 6 ft 1 in (185 cm) 187 lb (85 kg) 2011
4.29 Fabian Washington 5 ft 11 in (180 cm) 188 lb (85 kg) 2005
4.29 Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie 6 ft 2 in (188 cm) 184 lb (83 kg) 2008
4.29 Josh Robinson 5 ft 10 in (178 cm) 199 lb (90 kg) 2012
4.3 Darrent Williams 5 ft 9 in (175 cm) 176 lb (80 kg) 2005
4.3 Tye Hill 5 ft 10 in (178 cm) 185 lb (84 kg) 2006
4.3 Yamon Figurs 5 ft 11 in (180 cm) 174 lb (79 kg) 2007
4.3 Darrius Heyward-Bey[12] 6 ft 2 in (188 cm) 210 lb (95 kg) 2009

Not many of those guys are very tall, though on average they outweigh Yedlin by around 20 or 30 pounds.

The other line I thought was interesting was this one:

Some have suggested that Yedlin move full time to midfield. But his skill set, built on quickness and speed more than creativity and technique, would have a defined ceiling if he moved farther upfield. “Could he be a winger? Yeah, sure,” Porter says. “But when you look at the top wingers, he’s never going to be more technical and more clever off the dribble and in his combination and movement than those guys are. He just doesn’t have that. But at right back? With his athleticism, bombing forward, going box to box? Right now, this is just the tip of the iceberg. I mean, he obviously already looks like the right back of the future for our national team. Beyond that, he can be a Champions League right back. He can be that good.” The difference, says Porter: At age 21, it may already be too late to master the finer points of midfield technique. But defending? “Yeah,” Porter says, “that can definitely be taught.”

Is that the next wave of US Soccer? Kids who either started too old or are just generally underskilled but who have terrific athleticism. In that context they’re still useable as marauding defenders, striking up the sidelines and running past the opposing defenders.

Works for me.

——–

The Yedlin to Tottenham deal is finally official. (As of 6 hours ago.) The details, and a picture of Yedlin holding a Tottenham jersey are at SI.com. That makes sense, he was held out of Sunday’s game and it was obvious why.

The New MLS TV Deal

by A.J. Coltrane

From Forbes:

When we reported on the Major League Soccer’s financial success in November, we noted that one of the biggest factors for the league’s continued success was its upcoming TV deal negotiations. MLS is currently in the final year of TV deals with ESPN , NBC and Univision, which pay a combined $30 million annually on average. After an especially long negotiation period, the league has finally sealed new, eight-year agreements with ESPN, Fox and Univision that will run through the 2022 season.

At today’s announcement press conference, MLS commissioner Don Garber called the set of eight-year deals the “most comprehensive media rights arrangement” in the history of American soccer. Garber also discussed the league’s need for maximizing the league’s TV revenue, an area in which MLS appears to have been incredibly successful.

In our November report we predicted that, thanks to a burgeoning fan base and the networks’ need for live programming, MLS should have little trouble more than doubling its TV rights income. It turns out even that bullish guess underestimated the final outcome – the three deals are reportedly worth a combined $90 million per year, roughly triple what MLS was receiving previously. That’s still a fair bit behind America’s other pro leagues – the NHL, for instance, gets an average $200 million per year from NBC – but is a huge step toward closing the gap.

Triple the current TV revenue!

More TV revenue  ->  better players  -> more eyeballs  -> more TV revenue…

I’d prefer to see the bulk of the revenue going to the lower and mid-tier players. I think that would improve roster “depth” and raise the overall quality of play more than would dumping the additional money into a few stars.

I won’t be surprised if the next TV contract in 2022 is triple the size of this new deal. Maybe that’s when soccer passes hockey.

The Next Generation Of Soccer Players

by A.J. Coltrane

The Colorado Rapids came to town this weekend, and the Sounders smoked them, 4-2. Free haircut when the Sounders score 3 or more goals!

Through eight games Clint Dempsey is leading the league in scoring with 8 goals. (2nd place is 6 goals, then there’s one player with 5 goals, and eight more players with 4.) The Sounders are tied for 1st place in the Western Conference. Last years’ “shaky goalkeeper issue” has been resolved… Things are looking good around here.

But here’s what inspired the post:  Marvell Wynne II plays for Colorado. For those of you with long sports memories, you’ll remember his dad playing baseball in the 80’s. Dad couldn’t hit, but he could run fast and play Centerfield, and he carved out a seven-year MLB career based upon those two skills. Marvell II is now in his 7th year of professional soccer, and he’s still only 27 years old..

Any time I see the “kid” connection it always gets me thinking about the future of soccer in America.

I think it’s obvious where the next wave of “kids” is coming from, and when.

Playing in the NFL is brutal. Many players leave the league with permanent, even debilitating injuries, or they can’t think straight anymore because of the repeated head trauma. The “football concussion” thing is a big sports story right now.

So what if even a few of today’s Linebackers, Defensive Backs, and Running Backs steer their kids away from football, and into another sport that rewards speed and size. It’s a sport that easy to pick up and play. It doesn’t require any special training to go out and have fun. You get to run around on grass without getting the crap kicked out of you.

I’m guessing 20 years from now we’ll see the “football concussion” pushback wave arrive. That’s when it’s really going to get interesting for American Soccer.

———————————————————–

Unrelated Thought:  The name “Marvell Junior” would almost sound like an oxymoron, wouldn’t it? I think “Marvell II” was a wise idea.

2nd Unrelated Thought:  One of the ESPN guys wrote recently that the NBA should start a new advertising campaign:  (paraphrasing) “The NBA! You can watch it without guilt!”

Clint Dempsey!

by A.J. Coltrane

Clint Dempsey! And I couldn’t be happier about it! The Sounders inked the #1 or #1a USMT player for the rest of this season and three years beyond it.

Grant Wahl, on how the deal got done:

…He was up for coming back to MLS, but the only teams he was interested in playing for were Seattle, Los Angeles and Toronto. What’s more, Dempsey’s side was asking for a huge financial commitment: $40 million at first. According to a source with intimate knowledge of the deal, Seattle countered with a first offer of $30 million — $20 million of its own money and $10 million from the league — including the transfer fee to Tottenham.

Los Angeles and Toronto were also interested in ponying up for Dempsey, multiple sources said, but Toronto (which is working on its own Designated Player deals) accepted that it was better for the league if Dempsey were playing in a U.S. city. Moreover, Los Angeles is expected to announce soon that it has filled its maximum three DP slots with the extension of Omar González’s contract.

“I think it was important that [Dempsey] ended up … how do I say this politely? … not in Los Angeles,” said Roth. “Because from a perception standpoint it would make MLS look essentially like a one-team league when it came to important international players. The Red Bulls are probably in there as well. But if not us, who? We double the attendance of everybody else [in MLS]. We’re in the top 25 in the world in attendance. I had promised the team if there was an available star player we would get him, and I thought he was a perfect match for Seattle.”

From July 18 to July 20, Seattle’s owners put together their best possible offer, and with Durbin handling the negotiations a deal took shape that involved a total commitment of $33 million. The transfer fee for Tottenham would end up being $9 million, and Dempsey’s three-and-a-half year playing contract with Seattle would end up paying him a total of $24 million — or $6.86 million per year, breaking David Beckham’s MLS record salary of $6.5 million. (Keep in mind that Beckham also earned a percentage of ticket and jersey sales.)

Pretty awesome. Dempsey is my favorite U.S. player. He’s 30, so the Sounders get his late prime plus additional tread left on the tires. As of today, he’s the probably the best player in the league.

The Sounders offense is going to be scaaaarrrry! Dempsey and Eddie Johnson supported by Obafemi Martins, Lamar Neagle, Brad Evans, Mauro Rosales, Steve Zakuani, Osvaldo Alonzo… that’s a ton of talent.

I’ll say it again! Awesome!

The MLS Expands…Again

By Iron Chef Leftovers

I almost spit out my coffee when I saw that the MLS wants to expand again and add another team in the New York City area. Here is a quote from the ever delusional MLS Prez, Don Garber:

“This market has 19 million people in the region and is soccer hungry,” said MLS commissioner Don Garber. “With the Red Bulls here, we have the opportunity for a rival — a derby, if you will — that will break through the clutter of sports teams in this market and will work on the local, national and global levels.”

Ok, sure. The market has 19 million people but it has never really embraced the MLS. The team has averaged about 75% capacity over the 3 seasons they have occupied Red Bull Arena and their average of 18,804 per game there is only slightly higher than it was at Giants Stadium. Red Bull Arena sits right on 2 mass transit lines, has easy highway access, plenty of parking and is in the middle of an area that has a high immigrant population, which usually means more soccer support. The problem that the MLS has is that those people know what good soccer looks like and the MLS isn’t it. There is a reason why you don’t see the US National team playing home games in NY/NJ during the World Cup qualifying – it turns into a virtual home game for their opponent.

That being said, is the talent level in the MLS really that good that they can dilute it down further without compromising the “quality” of the product? I don’t think they can. The season is early, but the attendance is down league-wide this year – Only DC, Montreal, Dallas and Portland have seen any increase in attendance (well technically KC also, but their average has gone up 9 per game). Even the Sounders have seen a significant drop in attendance this year. Last year they drew 66,000 for a game against Portland. This year – just a shade over 40,000.

What this is all about is money and brand. The new NY club will be owned by the Steinbrenners (of NY Yankee fame) and Sheik Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (owner of Manchester City). Since both of these owners have very deep pockets and the MLS has very liberal rules about skirting the salary cap when it comes to foreign players, you can expect this team to be stocked with over-paid, past their prime players from Europe who have name recognition, a la David Beckham. That is not good for the long term success of the MLS and is exactly what brought down the NASL.

Considering that teams like Chivas, New England, Dallas and San Jose don’t draw well, the league might just be better served moving one of those teams to NY. Honestly, the league would probably be better served putting another team in Seattle over NY – right now, I believe the only cities that could support a second team attendance wise would be either Seattle or Portland.

FIFA, the MLS and Popularity

By Blaidd Drwg with AJ Coltrane

Recently, MLS president Don Garber responded to FIFA president Sepp Baltter’s criticism of the MLS. Basically, Blatter was critical of the MLS for not promoting soccer enough in the US. I can understand where the comments come from – the United States is a rich market that FIFA would love to get millions of dollars in revenue from and it hasn’t been able to since soccer is arguably the 5th most popular professional sport here, behind football, basketball, baseball and hockey.

While I am no fan of Blatter, he has a point. A few reasons why:

  • The U.S. initially dropped the ball on getting a league going – it took 2 years after the 1994 World Cup for the MLS to start play and they lost any momentum that might have been gained to increase popularity. The US has a large immigrant population that is a ready base for soccer fandom, and by waiting, these people went right back to watching the club teams from their respective countries and didn’t give the MLS much thought on its inception.

 

  • The league did very little to bring in names that most Americans recognized, even from their own national team. Most of the players from that 1994 World Cup team went back to Europe to play club soccer, leaving the league essentially with secondary national team players and college kids. Couple that with a strict salary cap and this contributed to some pretty lousy soccer.

 

  • There is no relegation system. The league won’t improve if there is no incentive to get better. You drop the bottom two teams every year and bring up the top 2 from the 1st Division and you will improve the league in a hurry.

Garber points to the league’s success based with the following:

The league has set attendance records in the past six years, as the average has increased from 15,504 in 2006 to 17,872 in 2011 and a record 18,807 in 2012.

That is a 21% increasing in attendance. Sound good, huh? Well, it is technically true, but not quite the way that Garber wants it to be. Between 2006 and 2008, the league’s average attendance increased from 15,504 to 16,460, or about 6%. Nothing spectacular, but not horrible either, about 2% annually. Then, in 2009, the league opened up an outpost in Seattle. With the Sounders drawing 30,000+ a game, the league attendance jumped 14% between 2009 and 20012. If you take the Sounders out of the equation, league attendance between 2008 and 2012 jumped just 6%. That is incredibly slow annualized growth for the league (around 1.5%) when you take out the rabid Sounders fans.

The other comment I took issue with that Garber made:

“If he were to come to a game — whether it be in Seattle, Portland, Toronto, LA, Philadelphia, New York or any of our MLS markets — I think he would be very pleasantly surprised to see the passion that exists in our fan base and the high level of soccer IQ that exists in our fan base,” Garber told mlssoccer.com.

The passion is a bit overstated. Yes, Seattle has turned out to be a fantastic soccer market and there are plenty of people here who are causal fans. The same situation exists to an extent in Vancouver and Portland. Outside of that, unless you are actually attending games in many of the other markets, the fan base is almost non-existent. I can tell you from the time that I have spent in NY, Boston, LA, SF and Toronto, soccer is an afterthought in those cities. Heck, in Boston, I would be willing to bet that MLS soccer ranks below college sports in terms of popularity. So, Mr. Garber, if you want to impress FIFA, take them to a game in Seattle. If you want them to think they are right about their comments, take them to a game anywhere else.

Coltrane, the Sounders supporter he is, has a different take on this:

My take on it is that the FIFA president was talking out of his ass. I feel that the MLS commissioner has a much better grasp of his marketplace than the FIFA president does. If I were the MLS commissioner, I would have been “surprised” too. Soccer growth in the US is not going to happen overnight, or even over the 20ish years that the MLS has had so far. Establishing the sport will take another generation or two — when I was growing up all the dads/coaches would just roll the ball out there because none of them had played. It’s now getting to the point where dads who played are bringing sons to games to share the game they love (and coaching the kids) – just like baseball or some of the other “established” sports. I got the feeling from the FIFA president quote that he felt that his “beautiful game” was just going to roll into the US and take over the sporting landscape, and he was shocked that it hasn’t happened yet, which is ridiculous.

The Sounder’s Eddie Johnson Scores Two For The US

by A.J. Coltrane

There was a lot of surprised reaction last week when Jozy Alitodore was left off of the US squad for the two upcoming World Cup qualifiers. To quote Wahl:

Coach Jurgen Klinsmann left forward Jozy Altidore off his squad for the U.S.’s two important upcoming World Cup qualifiers, a decision that may well be the most surprising of Klinsmann’s 14-month tenure.

It’s true that Altidore has not had a standout year for the U.S., providing no goals and one assist in two starts and four substitute appearances. With Hérculez Gómez and Clint Dempsey expected to start up top in Friday’s qualifier at Antigua and Barbuda, it would not have been surprising to see Altidore come off the bench as a second-half sub. But for Altidore to be omitted entirely from the 24-man squad is a shock. (Pure forwards Gómez, Eddie Johnson and Alan Gordon are on the roster instead.)

After all, Altidore, 22, is tied for the Dutch league lead in goals with eight for AZ Alkmaar, including a terrific slaloming strike Sept. 30. The World Cup 2010 veteran has also played in a team-leading 17 straight World Cup qualifiers for the U.S. and brings big-game experience to the table. Under Klinsmann, the U.S. has scored more than one goal just three times in the coach’s 18 games, which makes you wonder why he would leave the U.S.’ most prolific European-based goal-scorer at the moment off the squad.

It worked out. Eddie Johnson scored two goals to lead the US against Antigua and Barbuda:

In his first game back with the U.S. national team, Johnson scored twice Friday night, including the winning goal in second-half injury time, lifting the United States to the verge of advancing in World Cup qualifying with a nervous 2-1 victory over Antigua and Barbuda.

If the Americans draw with Guatemala on Tuesday night in Kansas City, Kan., they will move into the final round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The U.S. has 10 points and so does Guatemala after a 2-1 win over Jamaica.

Johnson connected on headers in the 20th minute and then in the dying moments in his first game for the U.S. team in two years. He was added to the squad by coach Jurgen Klinsmann, ostensibly replacing the disappointing Jozy Altidore, and the move paid off.

“It’s good to be back in the mix,” Johnson said. “Going into this game the coach has a ton of confidence in me to put me wide out on the wing.”

“We have a world class coach who played at the highest level. He knows the game.”

And the correct quotes after the game.

Johnson was something of a speculative pickup by the Sounders prior to the season. He’s now 5th in the league in scoring, ahead of even Fredy Montero (7th). Their production has contributed to the Sounders +17 goal differential, good for 2nd in MLS. The team is advancing to the playoffs.

Everything else aside, he’s a huge upgrade from Nate Jacqua and he’s been really fun to watch.

 

——-

That last link is an excellent read. Here’s something I didn’t know:  Of Johnson’s 14 goals, 9 have come off of headers.

The Election Is Near!

by A.J. Coltrane

No, not that one. To quote SI’s Grant Wahl:

What are your thoughts on how the Sounders are handling the vote to retain or fire GM Adrian Hanauer?
— Matt Koppelman

I love it. The lowdown: On Oct. 7, Seattle season ticket holders will begin voting yay or nay in a vote of confidence on Hanauer. If he gets less than 50 percent support, Hanauer is out as GM. If he gets more than 50 percent, he stays. It’s the first vote of its kind in U.S. sports, and the idea came from the team’s part owner, the comedian Drew Carey.

“I was doing a show for the Travel Channel on the Barcelona-Real Madrid rivalry,” Carey told me last year. “In the Barcelona museum I talked to a guard, and he said there was an election coming up. Every four years they have an election for the president of the club. I said, ‘Are you kidding me? I’d like to see George Steinbrenner do that. I would love to bring that to the U.S.'”

When Carey first met Joe Roth, now Seattle’s principal owner, “All we did was talk soccer the whole lunch,” said Carey, who ended up signing on with him to invest in a new MLS team in Seattle. “I spent the whole time telling him about fans voting their president out. … The fans will do the dirty work for you. I always gave the Detroit Lions as an example: Matt Millen. He was there so long and made so many bad picks, but the Lions’ owners didn’t care. In my system with the Sounders, the fans could have fired Matt Millen.

“Joe bought into it, and we worked out the system. The vote is every four years. If the fans want to, they can get 20 percent of the members to sign a petition, and then they can have the vote any year they want.”

Granted, the stakes of the upcoming vote aren’t as high as they could be for Hanauer, who would remain as a part-owner of the Sounders even if he’s tossed out as the general manager. Then again, I expect Hanauer will receive a vote of confidence: Seattle has been a tremendous success story in terms of fan interest and on-field success, especially in winning three U.S. Open Cups from 2009-11. The next big hurdle is for the Sounders to win their first MLS playoff series.

As for the four-year term – it’s on the short end of reasonable for soccer, since highly drafted players should be close to performing with the “big club” soon after their acquisition. If franchises were to try something like this in baseball it would require a six or seven year term — it takes the cumulative effects of multiple drafts and trades over a period of years to determine if the GM is competent or not. (However, if M’s fans could have fired Bavasi after four years it would have avoided some of the worst of the damage to the player base. And it would have been blindingly obvious it was time for him to go.)

The real danger here, of course, is that most sports “fans” are by definition… maybe not clueless, but definitely “underinformed” and generally not the most rational bunch of folks, at least with respect to their favorite teams. I think this is especially true with sports where there are few quantifiable and publicly available statistics. Such as soccer.

This will be the first vote on the Sounders GM position, and letting the inmates run the asylum rarely works out well. With as successful as the Sounders have been, I hope that nothing interesting happens and that Hanauer easily wins re-election. We’ll see.

60,000 Free Haircuts

by A.J. Coltrane

Quoting the Sounders program:  “For the third-straight year Sounders FC broke the MLS attendance record in 2011, averaging 38,496 per MLS home match. Seattle has sold out 60-straight MLS regular season and playoff matches.”

It goes on to point out that the Sounders 2012 attendance (39,527) would rank them 7th in the English Premier League, right behind Chelsea.

The Sounders sold 60,905 tickets to the latest LA Galaxy game. The Sounders scored four goals that day, which meant free haircuts for everybody.

Beats the heck out of the old Sonics “Chalupa” promotion — If the Sonics scored 119 points then the fans would win a buy-one-get-0ne-free Chalupa. People would still chant “Chalupa, Chalupa, Chalupa”, when the game was a blowout but the Sonics were close to 119 points. Then the stadium would erupt when the Sonics got there.

People are easy to please. Though I’m happier with the free haircut.