Crew & Rapids: Anti-Parity – Thoughts on the Eve Of

Beyond mentioning I’m thrilled the parties involved went with the “outer-space-esque” Trillium Cup for the rivalry/cup between the Columbus Crew and Toronto FC, I have nothing immediately relevant to add. That said, I’d recommend checking out the previews for both Columbus’ (LINK – Julius James is out for TFC, eh?) and the Colorado Rapids’ (LINK – holy crap! that’s half of Colorado!) openers, both of which are home games, to check for any players missing through injury.

What I wanting to do here is quickly set the stage for what I’m watching for as I follow both the Crew and the Rapids through the 2008 season. To start with what I will literally watch – e.g. the games for both teams – I suspect I’m in for a healthy share of 0-0, 0-1, and 1-0 games. The two teams I’m watching are, by general consensus, two of the worst teams in Major League Soccer (MLS); according to a sample posted earlier, 9/10th and 11th. No, this does not particularly excite me.

The thing is, that’s kind of the point. The more I mull over what drew me to those two teams, the better I’m understanding why they sprang to mind. As most readers of this site know, MLS is built on parity (OK, the vast majority of you know this, but…) a system of rules backed by systemic compensations designed to help struggling teams and rein in the stronger ones. In spite of this arrangement, both Colorado and Columbus have rarely impacted the league in a meaningful way, never mind threatening to join the league’s elite. Instead, one mediocre season follows the one that came before. I’d argue this applies more to Columbus, especially where continuity is concerned, but Colorado, for all their playoff appearances, made MLS Cup exactly once – and no one thought they’d win it. In a sense, these guys’ combined records point to the limits of what parity can accomplish; they’re like anti-parity, evidence of bad judgment’s capacity to undo the intentions of central planning.

Guesses at why neither team has risen above their mid- or low-table status certainly exist: cheap front offices, less-than-glamorous markets, low local interest, a kind of paralyzed attachment to the Status Clavjio…er, status quo. But the point of this project is to see what happens this year, specifically, to either keep them down or allow the teams to thrive. For example, will a mid-season coaching change for either team demonstrate that coaching has been the problem all along?  Hopefully, I’ll get some answers to compensate for the pain I’ll endure if neither team sorts it out.

That said, I settled on these two teams in the hopes that they would figure it out – though I have to admit that applies more to the Crew than the Rapids. Will this be the year Columbus beardless youths become woolly mountain men? Will Colorado’s decision to throw so many of their hopes in Christian Gomez’ basket pay off?

Stay tuned…

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EPL Daily 3.28: Hislop has a blog? and it’s all drama.

March is closing out and so does a crazy month of soccer, but all that’s really grabbed the headlines is drama. But before we get to the drama, take a look at former FC Dallas keeper Shaka Hislop’s new blog with the Guardian.

Hislop calls the Houston Dynamo the favorites for the upcoming 2008 MLS Season. I love it. He writes well, he analyzes well, and people will read him. He actually barely talks about the Dynamo, but focuses mainly on his former team Dallas and Beckham’s Boys.

Now on the neverending drama:

GILLETT and HICKS: George Gillett is still trying to figure out how to get rid of his Liverpool share without selling it off to his partner Hicks. The American’s rant paints Hicks as a crazy man who is impossible to work with. Could be. Plus, Gillett has already found another outlet in the Saputo Family and the Montreal Impact. Man, would that be awesome. Saint Louis and Montreal for the next two teams?

TIM CAHILL: I feel like this headline pops up once every 6 months and it really is a shame. Cahill is easily one of the best midfielders in the EPL when fit and to see him struggle mightily with injuries not only hurts Everton, Everton supporters, but the general spectatorship. The guy has all the tools to help lead Everton into the Big Four. To prepare for the future, David Moyes has already been forced into lining up replacements like Lyon’s Kim Kallstrom.

MASCHERANO: Javy Masch’s bitching and moaning got him a $200,000 fine of 2 weeks’ wages for his outburst last weekend against Manchester United. On top of that, he’s got to serve an initial one-match ban which could be increased once revisited by the FA. For many, this all seems unwarranted…but it just goes to show they weren’t kidding when they said they’d give out bookings like mad if you continually bitch to the ref.

ROY HODGSON: According to various sources, striker David Healy will not play the rest of the season for Fulham and be released from his contract at the start of the transfer window. He can hit for his country, but has done nothing for his club. Jari Litmanen is in the same boat as he has yet to don the Cottagers jersey. Apparently, Hodgson hit out at the Finnish legend saying, “he has not played one game in a Fulham shirt but he has played two matches for Finland”. I ask again, is Hodgson the right guy for the job in Fulhamerica?

DROGBA: Chelsea’s saving grace and brace scorer in last weekend’s win over Arsenal is yapping quite a bit. He has apparently told teammates he’s headed to Inter in the offseason. Add this to Ronaldinho’s possible move away from Barca and you got yourself a fun-filled summer coming up.

2008 MLS Pre-Season Collective Power Rankings: Featuring Collectives Within The Collective

Here comes another first for Center Holds It: Major League Soccer (MLS) Pre-Season Collective Power Rankings. All I do here is take every single posted power ranking of which I’m aware, add up all the numbers for each given team, and then post the average – plus some other data and commentary. The idea is to divine the collective wisdom on MLS’s 14 teams. Does it work? Don’t know. Never thought of it that way…I just find it interesting.

NOTE: If you compile power rankings yourself, or if you see a set of rankings out there that I’m not using in this poll, PLEASE forward word to me (comments or email – jeffbull71[at]yahoo.com – will do). If they get to me before I post the collective rankings on any given Thursday, I can include them. The guiding principle is, the more the merrier, the more the better, the more the smarter. It’s a cornucopia of wisdom we’re wanting.

OTHER NOTE: Last year, a couple readers joined in by posting rankings in the comments to my power rankings post (like this one, posted today) and that is welcome. I imagine, however, there is some kind of upper limit for what I can process without letting this hobby consume my life. I’ll let you know when I get there. For now, though, fire away…next week, that is…fire away for next week’s edition.

One last thing before getting to the rankings and commentary: the list of pundits. As with last year, some rankings come from individual’s (like me and Luis Bueno’s for Sideline Views), while others grow from on-site collectives (ESPN.com’s and Blue Blooded Journo’s); in other words, we’re dealing with collectives within collectives (and our solar system could be an atom contained in the thumbnail of some giant, etc. etc.).

It being early in the year, this is a small sample – only 7 pundits. But I have faith it will grow as the season progresses. Here’s the list for today (with links embedded, so you can check my math): Continue reading

2008 MLS Pre-Season Power Rankings: Science!

I’ll begin by apologizing for the constant need to explain my posts and myself. Sorry.

Welcome to the first, and first-ever, Major League Soccer (MLS) pre-season power rankings I have ever compiled. In the past, too few teams playing meaningful games equaled too many unknowns, so I didn’t see the point. I don’t really now….good times, aside. Oh, how we’ll laugh when we look back. That confessed, I’m going to embrace this form wholeheartedly and dress it in the available trappings of science.

I’ll begin with methods, a problem I never resolved during 2007 (mainly because I caught the issue too late in the game). By judging teams on different criteria at different points in the season, I tarnished the results. I started, if memory serves, by ranking MLS clubs based on form – e.g. a broad-brush impression of which team would beat which on the Saturday ahead. By the end of the season, however, I altered the formula to address something that seemed more important: the teams I believed would make the playoffs took the top 8 spots and I placed the teams I thought would go deeper in the post-season nearer the top, regardless of form. I move that the last organizing principle be branded as stupid and relegated to the Hole of Non- and Never-Existence.

With that in mind, the methods employed in the season ahead will adhere closely and permanently to those that first guided me – that is, I expect the team above to beat the team below 6 games out of 10 at a minimum; a brief explanation of my thinking will follow each team listed and each post will close with a discussion of trends and points of interest – assuming any come to me. With consistent methods in place, sound results, analysis, and conclusions should follow – if only logically…and internal logic at that. And – voilà! – we have science…of a sort.

And, later today, I’m going to up the science a little more by roping in all the pre-season power rankings I have seen so far in order to revive the Collective Power Rankings from last season. But, after the jump, I’ll lay out how I see all 14 MLS teams entering this deeply fascinating 2008 season. It promises to be a wild one, (but, c’mon, we all know deep down it’s going to peter out into a dogfight involving the usual suspects…I mean, how many people are rating Red Bull New York…pssh). Continue reading

Red Bulls: Expanding Coverage, Brunner, Oscar, and a call for depth.

Along with Jeff’s extensive coverage of Columbus and Colorado and the MLS in general, I decided to pick my “local” team (until Philly gets arrives in 2010) to cover. Center Holds It was just issued their first press credential (solely based on the merit of this blog)…yep, for a blog, which means I will be getting my ass to and from Giants Stadium to join Ives, Nat, and many others in bringing New York Red Bulls info to everyone. Hopefully, we have some Red Bulls fans on here.

Expect quotes, live blogs, developments, etc.

Couple – by now – well known tidbits from today’s news:

– Check out Metrofanatic’s coverage of RBNY’s Media Day. I especially enjoy the Jozy Altidore interview, where they try several different ways of getting Jozy to announce that he is in fact leaving for Europe before the end of the year.

– The Bulls are expecting at least 2-3 more foreign signatures in the next month or so. One as early as next week. That target is apparently someone who is “playing” in Europe. They have completed the signing of 31-year old Colombian striker Oscar Echeverry who last played with Atletico Nacional from 2004-2007.

– Jeff’s Eastern Conference Preview tags JCO and New York as “fillers”, ESPN Soccer has them making the playoffs, 4th in the East, 7th overall. WV Hooligan says about the same, citing depth as their biggest weakness. You ask my opinion – and I don’t have it up yet – but watching these guys play all year, and the turnover is minimal, I see us 2nd in the East again, 4th overall. Projected lineups and season previews of all teams are going up here. You think my pick is bold? Check out this guys.

–  The New York Post has now jumped in the Red Bulls/MLS media circle with “Extra Time”. Brian Lewis is doing the reporting. Informative and to the point, it’s more soccer coverage. Looks like the press box is a going to be a bit more crowded this season.

Buzz Carrick over at the FC Dallas’ 3rd Degree predicts that central defender and RBNY’s first round 2008 Superdraft pick Eric Brunner will be rookie of the year.

10. The Rookie of the Year will be Eric Brunner of the Red Bulls.  It’s going to be a three horse race between Brunner, Anthony Beltran in Salt Lake, and Chance Myers in KC.  I’m giving Brunner the nod as he’s a natural fit for the LCB spot in the 3 man NY back line.  He’ll also score a couple nice goals on headers.

Can’t say I agree, but he did say for many he was goin’ out “on a limb”. What other rookies should be added to that list? Brek Shea of FC Dallas? Shea Salinas in San Jose? Julius James in Toronto? It looks like Chance Myers will be the only one certain of a starting spot heading into the start of the 2008 season.