Category Archives: Soccer

Cascadia Comedown

Whitecaps Wednesday

If the Whitecaps have designs on banking a few points at home before heading out on a six-week road trip, it may be wise for them to reengineer their method of doing so. Mind you, for much of the season to date they have been incapable or unwilling to evolve their tactics when the occasion demands it, however now may be a better time than ever to get creative.

In a game that should have been interesting if not intense, the Sounders were far and away the better team in front of the fans at BC Place for the vast majority of the 90+ minutes. The loss comes on the heels of a disappointing draw against Edmonton in Canadian Championship play on Wednesday and did little to alleviate the mounting pressure to perform at home.

Maybe that upcoming lengthy road trip isn’t such a terrible thing after all.

Coach Carl Robinson of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Coach Carl Robinson can’t be pleased with his team’s performances at home this season. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Continue reading Cascadia Comedown

Episode 65: Whitecaps atop the MLS table

Russell and Jason, awash in the euphoria of another Whitecaps home win, record under the dome at BC Place.

• Steve Ewen bumper
• Russell was conceived to A Flock of Seagulls
• The Whitecaps should beat the Union
• Robbo concedes his side should have won this game
• This is why Edmonton can’t have nice things
• Pedro had himself a tidy little game
• David Ousted: save of the week?
• Whitecaps are too deep to lose to Edmonton
• Darren Mattocks inspires our musical selection
• Pedro Morales — You’re Welcome!

Darren Mattocks scores on the Philadelphia Union. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Darren Mattocks scores an impressively athletic goal against the Philadelphia Union to cap off a 3-0 Whitecaps win at BC Place. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head

Episode 63: We’re Blue, We’re White

Russell and Jason queue up a little of the beautiful game — specifically a review of the impressive start to the Vancouver Whitecaps 2015 MLS campaign.

• Exploding intros
• Sofa Surfer Girl by the Orchid Highway
• Pedro likes to doff the jersey, doesn’t he
• Laba gets too handsy for our taste
• More like the Yellowcaps, amirite?
• Kendall Waston: the Todd Bertuzzi of MLS
• Arbuthnot’s prognosticatin’ successes
• Ousted has been Oustanding
• Techera and Earnshaw — as good as their billing?
• Vastly improved depth
• Russell doodles with the best of them
• Next World by the Orchid Highway
• Again! Again!

Wednesday, Snowy Wednesday

Remember when it snowed on Wednesday?

Oh that’s right, you probably don’t, because it didn’t.

Unless you happened to be in Edmonton with the Whitecaps and their travelling horde of fans.

Vancouver was in the Alberta capital for the first leg of their Canadian Championship series against FC Edmonton, but then this happened:

Clarke Field is green sometimes. The rest of the time it looks like this. Photo from Whitecaps FC.
Clarke Field is green sometimes. The rest of the time it looks like this. Photo from Whitecaps FC.

On May 6th. Months after winter has supposedly ended. That.

Continue reading Wednesday, Snowy Wednesday

TFC is still a bloody big mess

File this under B for BWA HA HA.

Toronto FC has not been a good club over their short stint in MLS. Jermain Defoe was a bloody big bust, and Michael Bradley has delivered more sketchy challenges with cleats up than highlight forays up the field.

The team is reviled around MLS circles. Like most everything in Hogtown, TFC steeps in unfounded confidence — their lack of humility in never having made the post-season is only matched by a complete dearth of on-field results. They’ve got just one win on the season, a lucky opening day win against our own Vancouver Whitecaps that was somewhat marred by Jozy Altidore’s smarmy taunting of the Southsiders (and a certain now-famous bird-flipping photograph that circled the globe).

During last night’s loss to Dallas FC, with the scoreline showing 3-0 against, Michael Bradley took down a Dallas midfielder with a vicious challenge for a yellow card.

Perhaps not surprisingly, responses didn’t come from TFC fans defending their bald, ET-nogginned captain, but rather from other soccer fans who wanted to dig the blade in deeper than that.

And can I just say that Paul S-H is one of my favourite soccer commentators on the mighty Twitter?

But I digress. The purpose of this post is to share a brilliant entry to Toronto’s Banner Challenge. The team asked fans to submit designs for an internet banner; they chose the best ones, tweeted them from their official account, and hosted them on their bloody big website. On April 13, they tweeted this:

Submitted by a Columbus supporter, this banner ad was tweeted by TFC's official account. Apparently they can't read columnar text.
Submitted by a Columbus supporter, this banner ad was tweeted by TFC’s official account. Apparently they can’t read columnar text.

Looks great, right? Yep. Until you read the leftmost letters from top to bottom. Turns out a Columbus Crew supporter pulled one over on the TFC marketing chumps, and got them to broadcast their suckitude all over the bloody big internet.

Now where is that B file…

Whitecaps photo gallery

Whitecaps WednesdayThe Vancouver Whitecaps surprised just about everyone in MLS on Saturday, as they dominated — dominated — the LA Galaxy from opening kickoff to the final whistle. The official stats keepers only gave Vancouver 52% of possession, but let’s be clear: the Caps played freakin’ keepaway against the defending champs, and won handily. The 2-0 scoreline flatters L.A. More telling is the shot total: Vancouver generated 18 shots on the Galaxy net, and only allowed six the other way. If you only count balls on net, the Whitecaps were even more impressive, outshooting L.A. nine to one.

So far this season, the Caps have won ugly, they’ve won lucky, and on Saturday, they won impressively. Vancouver is now on an MLS franchise-high four-game win streak, with depth everywhere on the pitch. It looks like it’s going to be a fun season, y’all.

Next up it’s a midweek game against the Columbus Crew, Wednesday at 7pm at BC Place, followed by a road match in San Jose on Saturday.

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The Mystery of Morales

Whitecaps Wednesday

After a disappointing loss to Toronto in their season opener, the Whitecaps have reeled off three straight wins and find themselves in good shape through the first month of play. Sure, they’ve had a flair for the dramatic, earning two of the three victories in stoppage time and the other just shortly before, but it’s tough to argue with nine points in four games – a win is a win after all.

And while the results have been by and large positive (more positive than I had predicted), the process certainly hasn’t been what Carl Robinson was expecting of his squad, which is both a testament to the talent he has brought in and an indictment on their efforts thus far. Yet, over the last three weeks, a rotating cast of players has provided just enough magic to allow the Whitecaps to come out victorious. Which is a far cry from where this team was last year.

Coach Carl Robinson of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Coach Carl Robinson watches on as his Vancouver Whitecaps steal three points against the Portland Timbers at BC Place. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Last season we saw a team that won and lost largely due to the performance of one man. As Pedro went, the Whitecaps went. And to start the 2015 campaign, it appears that perhaps Pedro has indeed went.

Continue reading The Mystery of Morales

Earnshaw scores in debut — again

Robert Earnshaw was on the pitch at BC Place for less than four minutes before he found himself on the receiving end of a brilliant touch pass from El Capitán Pedro Morales. Keeper Adam Kwarasey charged out to challenge, and Earnshaw used his first touch as a Vancouver Whitecap to chip the ball over him  into the back of the net. He celebrated thusly:

Robert Earnshaw celebrates for the Vancouver Whitecaps FC. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Robert Earnshaw celebrates scoring the winning goal in a 2-1 Vancouver Whitecaps FC win over the Portland Timbers. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

It wasn’t the first time he’d scored in his first appearance with a team. Earnshaw scored in his first game with the Chicago Fire last year, and potted a pair of goals in his home debut with dirty, rotten, stinkin’ Toronto FC two seasons ago. (It should be noted that Saturday’s game-winner was Earnshaw’s first-ever at BC Place — he was held scoreless in his MLS debut two seasons ago when the Caps blanked Toronto 1-0, a game in which he started and played 85 minutes.)

At 5’8″ and just 160 pounds, he’s not likely to overpower defenders like Nat Borchers or that bloody ginger beard of his. But holy hamhocks, can this guy boot a ball into a soccer net. Earnshaw now has a dozen goals in 32 MLS appearances. That’d be a fair clip for a hockey player, but in soccer, them’s all-star numbers. Don’t just take my word for it; the MLS website, for all its warts and biases, usually gives us stats pretty straight up, and it tells us, “[Earnshaw has recorded] a hat-trick in every professional division in England, including the FA Cup and League Cup competitions as well as internationally for Wales.”

Sam Adekugbe of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Sam Adekugbe jacks up the crowd after Robert Earnshaw’s late go-ahead goal. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

“I knew he’d get one chance,” said Coach Carl Robinson after the match, happy to steal three points in a game where his squad was badly outplayed by the opposition. “I know what Ernie can do, what kind of touch he has with the ball, so I just told him to take the chance when it came. I’m glad he did.”

Chances are the Welshman will do it again. Earnshaw now has 217 goals for clubs in England, Scotland, Israel, the US, and Canada, as well as the Welsh international side.

“It’s always exciting, especially in a debut,” Earnshaw said after the match, saying that even after 18 years of playing professionally, he’s still overwhelmed with emotion when he scores. “The feeling of when the ball hits the net, oh my God, it’s the best. The best.”

Here’s a video for your highlight-watchin’ pleasure:

Sports’ Biggest Fallacy

Whitecaps Wednesday

A win is a win is a win. Except when it isn’t.

“Now hold on a second, Russell! That doesn’t make any sense! How can a win not be a win?” Lend me your attention for a moment fine reader and I’ll be happy to explain.

After three months of inactivity, I've got the okay to pull the Rackets & Runners shirt (and the cheesy running selfies) out of mothballs.
Pucked in the Head’s fearless leader Jason Kurylo is seen here trying to outrun logic and reason. If you look closely, you can spot his overactive moistical gland in full production.

On March 14, we saw the Vancouver Whitecaps escape Toyota Park with a 1-0 result over the Chicago Fire. I watched this game while a wave of frustration bombarded me with each squandered scoring opportunity.

Sure, the Whitecaps notched their first triumph of the infantile MLS season this weekend. I’d suggest that many of you were in fact quite happy to see the Whitecaps find the victory in Chicago on Saturday. It’s not out of the question that you were placated by the fact that the Whitecaps FC had never scored a goal at Toyota Park. And many of you probably defaulted to using the aforementioned “a win is a win” cliché as some type of reasoning for arriving at your satisfaction in seeing the Caps win. (I’m looking at YOU, Kurylo).

Continue reading Sports’ Biggest Fallacy

On the long-term stability of MLS

In December, in Don Garber’s state of the league address, the Major League Soccer commissioner made an astounding claim: MLS clubs were collectively losing over $100 million per season. The announcement was widely scoffed at, and seen as posturing ahead of the upcoming collective bargaining negotiations.

As someone who once flirted with an accounting career, going so far as getting a diploma before realizing how bored I was preparing myself to be for the rest of my life, I know that the profits or losses a company declares in its financial statements don’t necessarily equate to cash gains or losses. That said, it’s discordant to see MLS simultaneously crying poor and announcing multi-million dollar signings of players like Steven Gerrard, Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco. I’m going to do something in this article I don’t usually do: take MLS at its word. The league is in awful shape, losing over $100 million per year, and its solution is to keep buying increasingly more expensive players. Is this a good strategy?

Is the acquisition of players of Jermain Defoe's quality good for the long-term stability of MLS?
Is the acquisition of players of Jermain Defoe’s quality good for the long-term stability of MLS?

First, let’s look at who these expensive players are, and how much they’re making. We’re going to look at 2014 numbers, because it’s obviously too early to know what effect the latest crop of players will have on the league. Here is every player that made $1 million or more in 2014:

  • LAG – Landon Donovan ($4,583,333)
  • LAG – Omar Gonzalez ($1,250,000)
  • LAG – Robbie Keane ($4,500,000)
  • MON – Marco DiVaio ($2,500,000)
  • NER – Jermaine Jones ($3,252,500)
  • NYRB – Tim Cahill ($3,625,000)
  • NYRB – Thierry Henry ($4,350,000)
  • ORL – Kaka* ($7,167,500)
  • POR – Liam Ridgewell ($1,200,000)
  • SEA – Clint Dempsey ($6,695,189)
  • SEA – Obafemi Martins ($1,753,333)
  • TOR – Michael Bradley ($6,500,000)
  • TOR – Jermain Defoe ($6,180,000)
  • TOR – Gilberto Junior ($1,205,000)
  • VAN – Pedro Morales ($1,410,900)
    *It’s not clear how much of Kaka’s salary was paid by Orlando, as he was loaned to Sao Paulo, but again let’s take the numbers provided at their word.
Obafemi Martins is one of only 15 players in the league making over $1 million. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Obafemi Martins is one of only 15 players in the league making over $1 million. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Only nine out of twenty-one clubs had a million-dollar player on their roster in 2014. (We’re counting Orlando and NYCFC because the player’s union says they had guys earning salaries.) Only four had more than one.  In total, fifteen players, spread over fewer than half of the league’s clubs, accounted for just over $56 million dollars in salary, or over half of the league’s losses. Is the league likely to recoup these losses?

Let’s start with the largest cash infusion in the league’s history: its new domestic television deal worth an estimated $90 million per year. This type of money likely isn’t thrown at the league without the star power of some of the names in the above list. Subtracting the money from the previous TV deal, we can expect the league to offset about $60 million of its losses just on new TV money in 2015. More, if Sky Sports paid anything significant for the rights to broadcast two games a week in the UK. As terms of the UK deal, unlike the domestic rights deal, were not disclosed, I am assuming Sky did not need to pay much, and MLS was happy enough just getting their product on British television. We’re down to a $40 million shortfall.

Now things get slightly murkier. How much of an effect do players of this calibre have on attendance? This is difficult to measure, because winning tends to have a positive effect on attendance and it’s difficult to pin how much of a team’s success is attributable to its most expensive players. The Galaxy, for instance, brought in Robbie Keane in 2011 and saw a nearly 2,000/game bump in attendance, but they were riding a 2010 Supporters Shield victory, and won a second one in 2011. How much of that attendance bump is “oooh, Robbie Keane” and how much is “oooh, I like winning teams.” Let’s see how the rest of the clubs fared.

  • Montreal signed Di Vaio in 2012 and saw diminishing attendance for the two years thereafter.
  • New England’s attendance increased by about 1,850/game, but they didn’t win the Jermaine Jones lottery until September.
  • New York saw their attendance soar by about 6,000/game when they signed Henry in 2010. The arrival of Tim Cahill in 2012 did not have a similar effect; the club lost 1,800 fans that year.
  • Portland has seen attendance increase every year, but that’s as much due to capacity increases and pent-up demand as it is Liam Ridgewell.
  • Seattle experienced a small spike in their first half-season, and a small decrease in their first full season, after the additions of Dempsey and Martins. They’re up about 500/game in total.
  • Toronto lured back 4,000 disenfranchised supporters with their bloody big off-season spending spree in 2014.
  • Vancouver saw a modest 400/game bump after Pedro Morales was added.

Let’s be generous here and say that those attendance bumps are permanent over the contract of the player. You’re going to get maybe 10,000 more butts in seats league-wide, on average, which translates to $12-15 million in extra revenue, depending on the average ticket price of the clubs doing the buying. In the best-case scenario, we’re still left with at least a $25 million shortfall.

Now how generous do you want to get with things like merchandise? Let’s assume every one of those 10,000 extra attendees buys a jersey for their new favourite player. At $140 for a customized jersey and (pure guesswork here) a 30% markup. You’re talking less than half a million dollars in extra revenue. In fact, you would need to sell 773,755 extra jerseys (at my guesstimate figures) to make up the shortfall.

Colour me extremely skeptical that the league is managing to approach breakeven on these players.

So how much of a problem does the league have? Its single-entity nature means the league can distribute its losses somewhat, and it’s probably only going to average a $1-2 million loss per club. The problem, though, is the league is setting itself up to be similar to a European league, with a small number of dominant teams at the top spending all the money and getting all the results. Look at the champions since the league started loosening restrictions and allowing multiple Designated Players: three out of the last four Supporters Shields and MLS Cups have been won by clubs with more than one millionaire salary. In the big European leagues this works ok. There are other things to play for. Relegation battles, cup competitions that the big clubs don’t always take too seriously, the prospect of Champions or Europa League play if you can get hot and sneak into the top five for a year. In MLS you have a race to the bottom for the right to draft next year’s stand-out NCAA player. Woohoo.

After the 2014 season, Chivas USA became the third franchise to fold in MLS' 19 years of existence. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
After the 2014 season, Chivas USA became the third franchise to fold in MLS’ 19 years of existence. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

I worry that we’re seeing the effects. The league has just folded its third franchise in only nineteen years of existence. Rumours are swirling that season ticket sales in Montreal were horrendously bad, though perhaps their dramatic upset win in the Champions League quarterfinals will improve that somewhat. A glance at the stands in Houston, Dallas, DC and even Philadelphia shows that many clubs can’t even sell out their barn for opening day. The TV numbers league-wide remain terrible.

This is a league that once enjoyed modest success and growth with their devotion to parity. Nine different teams won the Supporters’ Shield in the league’s first thirteen seasons. Eight different clubs won MLS Cup over the same period. There was a reasonable chance that even if your club sucked one year, it could be good again the next. The league has gone away from  that and it’s not at all clear that a lack of parity is in the best interests of anybody but a select few clubs.