Category Archives: Blog Post

The Polarizing Play of Darlington Nagbe



In a recent outing, Darlington Nagbe banged home an absolute beauty of a goal to help elevate the Columbus Crew over the Chicago Fire. Immediately social media sang his praise and searched for reasons why Nagbe never starred for the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) or made it big in Europe. The common refrain is he was played out of position, especially given his 2017 Gold Cup performance! Not too long after, the Nagbe detractors added their comments, which came down to the fact he just was not good enough.

While our regular listeners know I tend to fall in the second of those categories, I thought I owed it to the player and the fans to dive a little deeper than just my eye test and personal feelings. Let’s start with his Major League Soccer (MLS) career:

Nagbe is in his tenth season in the MLS. He is currently with the Columbus Crew after spending the last two seasons with Atlanta United, and the prior seven with the Portland Timbers. Per MLSsoccer.com, Nagbe’s career totals include 276 games played, 264 games started, 30 goals, and 38 assists. He’s never reached double digits in goals or assists in a single season, so from a points perspective, he hasn’t done much. For the USMNT, his point totals are even less appealing: 25 appearances, 1 goal, 2 assists.

In that 2017 Gold Cup, Nagbe did not play in the group stage, but was brought in for the knockout rounds. He played nearly every minute in the three knockout games. His stat lines were unimpressive, but he did draw the most fouls in the tournament (15). You can’t draw fouls if you don’t have the ball!

So what is the appeal for Darlington Nagbe?

The USMNT website describes him as a “confident and pacey midfielder,” and his fans point to his passion on the pitch, confidence on the ball, and ability to run at defenders. He is excellent with the ball at his feet and has a knack for getting his teammates involved in the attack. Critics point to the absence of these in international play and the lack of his stats. However, I haven’t been able to find measurable data in the areas in which Nagbe excels – passes and dribbles completed, progressive play, and other possession related categories.

So what can we conclude about Darlington Nagbe? Is anybody “right”?

Nagbe never lit up the score sheet, but no one ever quantitively measured how good he was on the ball. If you rely on “the eye test,” you can find great games and sub-par performances. Nagbe may be one of the best to ever play for Portland and was a solid USMNT call up. He seems pretty content with his career, and we as fans of the game in America should continue to enjoy him for as long as he laces up in MLS. Just don’t try to convince me he’s an American soccer legend that just never got his shot.

Nick Poteres
Host, Sons of a Pitch: An American Soccer Podcast
@SOPSoccer


SOP Soccer goes to Indy



Hello soccer fans! Nick wanted to share with you a few memories from his recent road-trip to Indianapolis to watch the Indy Eleven take on the Memphis 901 FC. He’ll tell you more during the next podcast, and the official recap is online, but here are his quick thoughts:

  1. Indy is a great city, and Lucas Oil Stadium is a great venue.
  2. The Brickyard Battalion supporters group is fantastic.
  3. Indy Eleven played very well – executed their game plan, converted set pieces, and never let up the pressure.
  4. Memphis played a mid-block, but Indy was able to get into the channels and play balls over the top to create chances.
  5. Shout out to the family of Memphis 901 Defender Josh Morton. I got to meet his family, and they were great to talk to.

And we have to mention that Indy is in the middle of a 24 game, home unbeaten streak, dating back to last season. Best of luck to the Indy Eleven and their supporters as the team looks towards the playoffs!

Current home of the Indy Eleven.
A great venue for a great club.
Kick off! Indy Eleven vs. Memphis 901 FC
Nick greets Ilija Ilic post-game.
Nick congratulates Karl Ouimette post-game.

Fire Sale! and their New, Old Stadium



The Chicago Fire have been purchased by a new ownership group and have announced a deal to play at Soldier Filed in (actual) Chicago. Below are all the articles describing the news and its impact on the league, the club, and most importantly, on the fans. The Sons of a Pitch will have their thoughts on the matter in our next podcast episode.

Happy reading, fans! Be sure to follow along on social media for all our content.


Arguments Against Pro/Rel for MLS



There are still people that want Promotion and Relegation for Major League Soccer. They walk among us, they sit beside us at games, and they interact with us on social media. I fell victim to one of their ridiculous tweets while enjoying LAFC’s recent dominance over San Jose. This particular tweet argued that there would be more fan interest if there was Pro/Rel in MLS. I immediately flew into a rage. So much so, I’m taking it to the internet!

If you’ve followed this issue, you’re familiar with the basic arguments against Pro/Rel.

  1. Financials
  2. Media
  3. Popularity

Financials
Owners won’t invest in a team that could get relegated. Fans won’t invest in a team that gets relegated. Also with Pro/Rel, teams/franchises with more money are will stay at the top of the table. You end up with a Tampa Bay Rays situation or an EPL situation where only five or six teams have a legitimate shot at the title. That is no way to grow the sport of soccer in America.

Media
The market isn’t there to cover 60 teams, assuming three divisions of 20 teams each. Baseball is arguably the most popular sport in America, and there isn’t great coverage of Double-A ball. We could have Pro/Rel, but who would know about it? The USL currently gets minimal coverage, so good luck finding your MLS team that just got knocked down a league. Unless you like paying for extra cable packages or online subscriptions, you won’t see your team. When was the last time you watched an Indy Eleven game?

Popularity
Simply put, soccer is not popular enough to support Pro/Rel. I think that the Pro/Rel argument comes from fans of European leagues. They want a copy of those leagues in the USA, but it’s apples to oranges. In Europe, soccer is literally the only game in town. Also, those leagues have 100+ years of development, both in on-the-field talent and off-the-field marketing. You want brand loyalty, go to an English Championship or even League One supporters.

In addition to those three arguments, I’d like to put forth two more:

  1. There’s already de facto promotion
  2. Pro/Rel for MLS would scare away talent

De Facto Promotion
There is already de facto promotion in the MLS. Put another way, who are your expansion teams and what are their origins? Seattle, Vancouver, Portland, Orlando, Minnesota, and Nashville are all clubs that had origins in lower divisions of American soccer, but were awarded MLS franchises. These clubs had both success in their leagues and financially sound business plans. They were essentially promoted by MLS. Many in favor of Pro/Rel argue that owners would be encouraged to spend more. The ownership of the clubs named above did and were rewarded for it.

Pro/Rel Scares Away Talent
No top level talent would sign for the MLS if they could get relegated. If they do, there will be clauses in their contracts forcing transfer or sale. That means the top talent in the league will be sold off cheaply, the teams would lose on their investment and lose on their marketability. Imagine if Colorado, DC United, Los Angeles Galaxy, Orlando City, and San Jose were relegated over the last two seasons. Assuming their DPs had some sort of relegation sale clause, we’d lose the following players from MLS: Tim Howard, Paul Arriola, Wayne Rooney, Romain Alessandrini, Gio and Jona dos Santos, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Nani, Dom Dwyer, Josue Colman, Valeri Qazaishvili, and Chris Wondolowski. And that doesn’t even contemplate players that wouldn’t sign with the MLS.

To be clear, I’m not against the idea of Pro/Rel for MLS. I’m just against it right now and for the short-to-middle term future. Give it another 20 years, where there are two viable, marketable, and competitive leagues, and I’ll reconsider. I’d rather see energy put into developing academies, soccer specific stadiums, USL affiliates, and training facilities. Pro/Rel isn’t feasible in today’s MLS or the current American sports culture, and those in favor need to understand that.

 

Thanks for reading!
-Nick


Transfer News, Roster Impact, and Nick addresses Atlanta Haters



Happy Holidays everyone, and welcome back to the Sons of a Pitch: An American Soccer Podcast. Even though the MLS is in the middle of its off-season, there has been no shortage of action. Teams are addressing their needs and a flurry of signings has taken place:

  • Laurent Ciman to Toronto FC
  • Yoshi Yotun to Cruz Azul
  • Alvas Powell to FC Cincinnati
  • Marcelo to Chicago Fire
  • Joe Bendik to Columbus Crew
  • Schelotto to manage the LA Galaxy

How do these signings affect their respective teams? Orlando City may have admitted it’s time for a rebuild. FC Cincinnati is looking to continue the success of expansion teams. Chicago and Toronto finally have center-backs, and Schweinsteiger and Bradley can return to their midfield roles. The hosts break down the rosters in greater detail and examine the potential playing style of each team as a result of these signings.

In a special segment, Nick addresses an issue that has been on his mind for some time: Atlanta haters. They hate on Atlanta for being good but never winning a trophy, then they hate on Atlanta for winning a trophy too soon. What are your thoughts on all the hate?

Finally, Sons of a Pitch recognizes the passing of an American soccer icon: Sigi Schmid. His imprint on the MLS and US Soccer will forever be felt, and we send our condolences to his family, friends, and all who are affected.

Thanks for listening, and stay tuned next week for our review of the USMNT January camp roster and what it means for the next four years of American soccer. Happy New Year to all!


Time Killers Before Kickoff: MLS Media Links



Have we got news for you!

Just one more day until the 2nd leg of 1st round of the 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs continues, and it seems like forever since we had a match! If you need something to get you through the next 24 hours, we’ve assembled a host of links to various coverage. Enjoy reading and supporting other MLS news sources.

We at Sons of a Pitch would especially like to thank Nick Chavez and LAFC Weekly for following us on twitter and putting out great content. We hope to collaborate with them in the future. Also, we’d like to recognize Grant for his support of the MLS and support of our podcast.

  • Check out The NYCFC Nation as they look towards the Cityzens match up with Atlanta United.
  • Even with LAFC out of the playoffs, be sure to bookmark LAFC Weekly to keep up with the latest club news from the fans’ perspective.
  • The numbers guys over at Five Thirty Eight still have Atlanta United as the MLS Cup favorites. Check out their advanced statistics and see if you agree.
  • Speaking of The Five Stripes, The Cooligans are certainly entertaining, if not also informative.
  • SB Nation has your team covered! Catch the latest headlines from around the league by their knowledgeable team of writers.
  • Sports Illustrated and Planet Futbol have in-depth playoff coverage on a variety of topics and storylines. And also one about Inter Miami FC’s new stadium.
  • And of course, all the news straight from the league itself: MLS Soccer.

Happy reading!


MLS Playoff Predictions In Review



Now that #DecisionDay has come and gone, we look back on our pre-season playoff predictions and whether our picks had a penchant towards perfection. (Ok, enough with the alliteration.)

So, how did we do? In the Eastern Conference, we successfully predicted 3 of 6 playoff teams. Who knew Chicago and Orlando City would be historically bad? In the Western Conference, Nick picked 5/6 teams, while Mike picked 4/6. Nick got the wrong LA team, and Mike put his faith in Vancouver. (Serves him right as a TFC fan.) Our picks are in the table below. Continue reading MLS Playoff Predictions In Review


Bobby Wood: Striker or Strike Out?



Forgive the baseball reference. It’s late. I’m slowly approaching the midnight feeding of my two-week old son, and that’s the best title I’ve got considering the lack of sleep. But my son was kind enough to nap during last night’s USMNT friendly against Colombia. And despite the many story lines and reactions from the game, I wanted to take the time to write about Bobby Wood.

I admit, I am not a Bobby Wood fan. When I think of him, I think of two things: 1) he only scores meaningless goals, and 2) he won’t take the USMNT to the next level. Through this article and some old-fashioned internet sleuthing, I’m going to try to either confirm or dispel my prejudices. Continue reading Bobby Wood: Striker or Strike Out?


Some Thoughts on Graham Zusi



When Major League Soccer played its first game on April 6, 1996, I was an 11 year old kid spending my weekends playing soccer for Rock Run Express in Rockford, Illinois. I was excited for the new league and the opportunity to immerse myself in the sport. Not having a local team, I found myself drawn to the Kansas City Wiz and their star player, Preki. (Maybe it was the jerseys?) Over the years, I’ve kept a soft spot in my soccer heart for the club, but I’ve recently been mulling over one question: Who is the star of Sporting KC? And who have been the stars of the franchise? Assuming that Preki is the franchise’s greatest player, I believe that Graham Zusi could be the 2nd greatest player to put on an SKC jersey.

Zusi has played his entire professional career for SKC (2009-present), and he’s had a respectable career with the USMNT (55 caps). Here’s his profile from mlssoccer.com:

And here is where he falls on SKC’s all-time lists: Continue reading Some Thoughts on Graham Zusi


The Controversial PK in LAFC vs. SKC: Interpreting the Rules



This discussion comes about as a result of a play in the Los Angeles FC vs. Sporting Kansas City game of August 11, 2018. In the 66th minute of the game, the referee awarded SKC a penalty kick as a result of a foul in the box. On the play, LAFC’s goalkeeper blocks the initial shot, resulting in a bouncing ball about 6 yards from the box. The ball is about chest high, and Felipe Gutierrez of SKC attempts a diving header. At the same time, LAFC defender Dejan Jokovic attempts to clear the ball, but also kicks Gutierrez in the head. The debate our hosts had on twitter centered around whether the defender played the ball first and if that actually matters. To help explain the call on the field, we must first turn to the rules.

The game of soccer is governed by the International Football Association Board’s Laws of the Game, and this article will use the 2018-2019 version. Law 12: Fouls and Misconduct applies to this case. Article 1: Direct free kick, states the following relevant parts:
Continue reading The Controversial PK in LAFC vs. SKC: Interpreting the Rules