With lots of Whitecaps rumours and news this week surrounding the acquisition of Blas Pérez and departure of Mauro Rosales, I briefly considered suspending the Top 5 of 2015 series for one week. But then my pal and yours, Jason, tossed up his own review of said happenings and generously added in my own take as a footnote to boot. Perfect. Perhaps, at a later date, I will expunge my feelings on that subject further, but for now, let us forge ahead with the Top 5 countdown and review the Silver medal match of 2015.
Entries five, four and three were certainly delicious, but the top two spots are rich in nutritional value and high in fibre while being even scrummier and more fulfilling than the previous three. On June 6, 2015, the Whitecaps sailed into the most hostile of territories and managed to achieve a remarkable feat on both a micro and macro level.
There was a time when I wrote articles on this website that garnered reaction from the public (I still remember you 2014!), and most often of the negative variety. Perfect. In particular, I have authored two pieces that seemingly turned people off more than a pants-optional wet t-shirt competition featuring all three male Pucked In The Head contributors. And if you know us, you know that “pants optional” is just a politer way of saying “nudity mandatory.”
Anyhoo, the two pieces I’m referencing both kind of centre around the same subject – none other than the Whitecaps’ previous man in charge: Martin Rennie. The first was a scathing review of the Scotsman’s insistence on including Jun Marques Davidson in the Whitecaps lineup. The guy was horrible and I stand by that.
The second, which now seems slightly contradictory, was a show of support to the former manager. In “A Rennie Saved is a Rennie Earned,” I extolled the virtues of the coach and attempted to coax the Whitecaps front office that the man was in a growing phase, much like the team itself. The Caps had improved under him each year and had some good pieces in place despite missing the MLS playoffs in 2013.
At that point in time, after going through coaches like weekdays, I felt the team’s best move was no move at all. Stable leadership had been elusive through their earliest MLS years and perhaps it was time to allow those in charge the opportunity to work and learn their way through the struggle. I suppose, with the promotion of Rennie’s assistant Carl Robinson, the Whitecaps did just that, albeit in a roundabout way.
The Vancouver Whitecaps steamrolled a third-string Real Salt Lake team 4-nil on Saturday in what can only be considered an apology for the mutt of a game they put forth in their first-ever Champions League match three days prior.
Ugh. Memories of that Wednesday Champions League match plague me like large, hulking plague-y things. Both the Caps and Sounders fielded third-string rosters who played uninspired, irresponsible football.
Having RSL field their USL affiliate against the Whitecaps first squad, then, was going to end one of two ways: a close match that had Vancouverites wringing their hands in horror, or a blowout. Thankfully for the local boys, it was the latter.
The biggest story isn’t that Octavio Rivero scored his ninth on yet another penalty kick. It’s not that Christian Techera put a brace into the back of the net for his third and fourth goals of the year. It’s not that Jordan Harvey is playing his best soccer just when Christian Dean is showing he’s got game and Sam Adekugbe is rounding into game shape to push him for minutes. It’s not that All-Star keeper David Ousted has the best goals against average in MLS, having allowed just two goals in the last four games and 22 overall this season. It’s not even that Pa Madou Kah scoring his third goal in two games — Pa Madou Frickin’ Kah, my friends, who had only scored once in his previous 58 MLS games.
No, it’s the fact that all of these remarkable storylines are coming together at the same moment. When Rivero hasn’t scored from the run of play since May. With Pedro injured and/or playing so-so football for the majority of the year. When Manneh still hasn’t found a regular groove and Mattocks is still, well, Mattocks. In a season that features a loopy schedule because BC Place hosted the Women’s World Cup. The Vancouver Whitecaps have tied the franchise record of 13 wins this season, and there are 10 games remaining.
This is an exciting time to be a Whitecaps fan. Come on, you blue and white, indeed.
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.
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!
The 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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Whitecaps Wednesday spent last week in Harrison Hot Springs, dodging village-wide gas leaks and a hearty collection of bed bugs (thanks Ramada Hotels). Luckily, the Caps just officially released what most have expected for a while now: a brand spankin’ new kit, so the previous one, now infested with little creepy crawlies, has found a new home in the firepit.
When we last checked in on the Whitecaps, they were mired in a long stretch of games away from Vancouver and, despite dropping their last game of the month, managed to acquit themselves well overall. July sees them in familiar territory, that is away from theirs, as they finally wrap up their road trip before heading home.
I know you’ve been waiting with bated breath for today. Can you believe it’s finally here? I know I can’t. And I bet you missed me. But don’t fret, I’ve missed you too.
And now with formalities aside, part two of Pucked In The Head’s March to March series sees the Whitecaps enter the second month of the 2015 MLS season with a 2-1-1 record. April starts off with a tough contest for the boys in the blue and white, followed by two more games within a week.
What will be the result, you ask? Read on, find out and curse my divinations in the comment section.
First kick is still months away, but the Whitecaps still managed to steal some ink away from the return of Roberto Luongo this week. The 2015 MLS schedule was released (along with the signing of Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard to the LA Galaxy), giving local soccer fans a case of the tweets. Thankfully, they’re much more pleasant than the trots, which have plagued TFC fans since Jermain “Bloody Big Deal” Defoe was linked to no fewer than four Premier League teams over the Christmas break.
But I digress. This is about the Whitecaps, their newly minted contract with Uruguayan striker Octavio Rivero, and the 2015 MLS schedule. The PDF file is below for your perusal, and doesn’t yet include Canadian Championships or Champions League matches — that’s right, baby, the Caps are reppin’ CONCACAF this year! — but let us give you a few dates to circle on the ol’ calendar right here and now.