A Brief Word on the TFC Travel Restrictions

By Benjamin Massey · October 28th, 2015 · 1 comment

Bookmark this page. I am defending Toronto soccer OOOOOOOLTRAs. It will not happen again.

Many serious supporters dislike “pyro” – flares and smoke bombs – at a match. This is more than their right. If you wish to stand and chant with your view unobscured and your lungs unblocked, you must be able to. It is a widely-held aesthetic, and in many cases medical, desire. It does not make you any less dedicated or intense. This is obvious.

Moreover, pyro can be annoying, and even unsafe, when wielded by unregulated imbeciles or inexperienced men. This goes for flags and even standing itself. The drunk yobbo smoking out his own keeper is a shame to himself and his group.

However, an also-large number of supporters love well-deployed pyro, both participating and watching from afar. It is common in matches around the world, almost invariably without ill effect. Set up with knowledge and preparation it is no more dangerous than waving a huge floppy flagpole for ninety minutes. In North America real mass supporters’ culture is still very young, and who can predict whether pyro will be a part of it in 2065?

The way to deal with it is to permit pyro, in an organized supporters’ section. This has two key advantages. First, those who dislike it may stand in another supporters’ section. Second, by giving responsibility for pyro to dedicated people, you contribute to a safe environment. Knowing that openness is good for a productive relationship, the supporters will have every incentive to self-police for those lone loons with a flare smuggled in their anus. The loons themselves will be less motivated, for the atmosphere they want already exists. Useful safety equipment like buckets of sand will be as easy to come by as a banner, and knowledge on safe support will be passed on openly from veteran to enthusiast.

The way not to deal with it is to insist on rigorous control by franchise and league front offices, then when repression inevitably leads to haphazard smuggling and crimes of opportunity, collectively punish a mass of supporters which was 99% incapable of stopping it even if they did know in advance, while fans who expected something else entirely choke and curse. And then to add insult to injury, using those very supporters (and very possibly that very pyro) in your marketing.

I would not smuggle pyro into an MLS game even if I were still a supporter in that league. I think you shouldn’t. But we have a mass supporters culture now, and the more you stomp on them for no good reason the more they’ll resent it. Wouldn’t we all? And with all that resentment pyro becomes something far worse than a display not everybody likes: it becomes a way for the disaffected and sometimes dumb to stick it to the Man who doesn’t give a shit about them as more than a cash machine.

You can have a proper supporters’ section. Or you can have franchise-funded cheerleaders. If you try to turn one into the other, for the sake of the twee faux-Britishness you imagine soccer moms want to clap along to, these things will happen. And if you then react by collectively punishing the innocent, you show even the rule-abiding what you really think of them.

The Pro/Rel Fantasy

By Benjamin Massey · August 11th, 2015 · No comments

North American Soccer League

North American Soccer League

As you probably know, North American Soccer League commissioner Bill Peterson recently told The Telegraph‘s Bob Williams that he will “take action” on bringing promotion and relegation to North American soccer[1].

Obviously a serious fan will wish Peterson all the best, but talk is cheap and pro/rel chatter goes at a discount. The only thing in the soccer universe less likely than the NASL getting USL onboard for a promotion/relegation scheme is the NASL getting MLS onboard. Peterson talks about a partnership with the American National Premier Soccer League but even for the Yanks that’s hardly a national pyramid while Canadians and Puerto Ricans would be, as Steven Sandor pointed out, up the proverbial creek. Itself a long shot, such a setup might be better than nothing but, for Canadian fans, not much.

Obviously promotion and relegation would be terrific in North America, as it has been everywhere else in the world. The North American sports palate is not as coarse and unrefined as Don Garber would have you believe. Take it from me, who cheers for many a last-place team: if I could honestly urge my lads to win at the end of the season rather than lose for the sake of a draft pick I’d be overjoyed, even if relegation was the price of failure. Leagues with business models based off collecting franchise fees will be have to find another way but that’s a feature, not a bug. Likewise with anti-labour concepts like discovery lists, allocation orders, and SuperDrafts which a real pyramid would make untenable.

The discussion, however, is academic so long as professional team owners are more interested in prestige and soccer-like sports entertainment than building a system that might hurt individuals even if it’s a collective boon. Which is why you don’t see much pro/rel ranting on this website: clearly pro/rel can’t be beat, but equally clearly it would require a shift in the North American soccer landscape of such scale that any forecast is essentially a personal fantasy.

Hell with it, let’s fantasize. Tomorrow morning Don Garber, Bill Peterson, Victor Montagliani, Sunil Gulati, and USL president Jake Edwards walk into my apartment. “Ben,” they say, “we’ve read your blog, we really like it (especially the blasphemous Photoshops), and we have therefore appointed you generalissimo of North American soccer. Your mandate is to implement promotion and relegation in Canada and the United States. The catch is that you don’t really have any new money and if you stomp all over the owners they’ll launch a coup, establish an Emergency Government of National Security, and hang you from a lamppost. What’s your plan?”

Major League Soccer need not give up its primacy. With promotion and relegation giving any club a route to the top, a professional domestic division developing domestic players, and the roster rules of a North American pyramid with three soccer nations (Canada, the United States, and Puerto Rico) as equal partners, most objections to our all-consuming top division disappear. Successful teams will thrive, the unsuccessful will fail, and if a Canadian team decides to focus entirely on foreign players, that team a couple divisions down nurturing local talent will have every chance to eat their lunch. Many MLS rules, like a salary cap and designated player slots, might remain in place all the way down the pyramid: what we’d lose would be favouritism between domestic players in different countries and the shady deals, weighted lotteries, and suspicious bursts of undocumented cash that make MLS such a joke.

The much-discussed Canadian second division is essential without promotion and relegation and would be essential with it. Hopefully the prospect of promotion would attract NASL loyalists FC Edmonton; in a pro/rel universe we couldn’t really hook them onto the American ladder forever. If not I guess we’re selling the nice china and pawning our guitars until we can buy the Faths out. As for the Puerto Ricans, the existing Liga Nacional de Fútbol de Puerto Rico is a good starting point for a third division. Their league structure is a hot mess right now, with traditional powerhouses Bayamón F.C. having to join the mainland NPSL, and as an ignorant outsider it seems unlikely that they’ll have a league at second division standard in the near future.

Amateur and youth levels, such as USL PDL, are left out. They don’t belong in the discussion of an open-age professional structure, even if some teams are plenty talented enough to compete at a third-division standard. Their role is an independent one, though doubtless some teams more interested in entertaining the community than developing college players will move over.

Canada United States Puerto Rico
Division 1 Major League Soccer
24 teams
Division 2 Canadian Premier League
8+ teams
North American Soccer League
10 teams
Division 3
Top reserve level
regional third divisions
(PLSQ, L1O, etc.)
United Soccer League
18 teams (plus reserves)
Liga Nacional de Fútbol de Puerto Rico
12 teams
Division 4+ local premier leagues National Premier Soccer League
65 teams
local soccer?

A thorny practical problem is how to determine who gets relegated. (This is where I’m glad I’m generalissimo.) Your standard three-up-three-down rule would be poorly received by MLS owners who’d paid huge expansion fees, and competitively unfair given the sometimes dramatic gaps in quality between different levels. Then there’s how to deal with three soccer nations under one roof.

I would put the three last-place MLS teams into an annual playoff with the top two NASL teams and the Canadian champion and have them play off, home and away. The last-place MLS team and the three second-division teams play one round. The winners face the second-last and third-last MLS teams. The winners of that play next season in MLS; the losers get a last chance third-place game. The big-money MLS teams would have every chance to keep their place, and if they took the drop in spite of everything it would be their own damned fault. If the NASL/Canadian teams are completely uncompetitive they’ll get wiped out in the playoff and, hopefully, come back stronger next year. It’s a conservative format which favours the existing powerhouses, but that’s okay if it gives everyone an honest chance.

This would happen without prejudice to nationality. If a Canadian league team wins promotion and it’s all American teams in the relegation pot, there’s one more Canadian team in MLS that year. The reverse applies when Toronto FC inevitably comes unglued and gets themselves sent to the U-Sector outdoor league. The numbers favour the Americans (remember, the NASL gets two entrants to the promotion playoffs to Canada’s one), which is probably only fair. Combined with their competitive advantage Americans need not fear a Canadian takeover of their national league, but if a Canadian team punches above their weight like this year’s Ottawa Fury then they can be justly rewarded.

The principle applies further down the pyramid. The USL and Puerto Rican champions play the bottom NASL teams: USL is far stronger than the Puerto Rican league but the playoff will shake out most pretenders. In Canada, let our regional semi-pro champions battle to send somebody to a promotion playoff against the basement-dwellers of the national league. Clubs would need the right to decline promotion for financial or other reasons, and reserve teams should probably not rise higher than the third division. It would also be important that Canada has a semi-pro league for every region, lest FC Edmonton be relegated to League1 Ontario, but that’s something that has to happen anyway.

Theoretically this could lead to regional leagues running short of teams: if League1 Ontario has a good run and half their teams get promoted, that would be inconvenient for the smaller number brought up to replace them. There would therefore have to be provision for extra promotion to keep leagues viable. Indeed, as the strength of the second and third divisions grow, both Canadians and Americans would doubtless want to bring additional teams to a higher level rather than stick with the relatively small NASL and Canadian league numbers forever.

At the bottom we integrate the various men’s amateur leagues that are currently thriving across Canada and the United States. Why shouldn’t Sunday players in the smallest communities have the chance to enter the semi-professional ranks if they’re willing and able? No doubt most of these teams would be incapable of winning promotion and be obliged to decline it if they ever could; the point is to give the exceptions a chance and allow grassroots teams, maybe even supporter-owned ones, to rise in stature and support until they’re on the biggest stage.

MLS teams would play more must-win games than ever before, bringing in fans and television viewers. A community in the driver’s seat for promotion would be captivated rather than trying to remember what the NASL regular season championship is called*. More teams at more levels would have more ways to draw more fans than in any other format, and when an underserved community could support a professional club they could make it on their merits rather than wait for a patron to pay an expansion fee. This all sounds brilliant, until you’re New York City FC, you just paid MLS a $100 million expansion fee, and there’s a real chance you’re swapping places with the Cosmos next year.

Indeed, the selfishness of empire-building ownership and league front offices is why our soccer pyramid is stuck in imagination. You’d have to be a much better politician than I to make it real.

(more…)

Four (Non-Playing!) Predictions for MLS in 2015

By Benjamin Massey · March 7th, 2015 · 3 comments

Many people are making their predictions for the coming 2015 Major League Soccer season. Unfortunately, I have no idea who’s good, who’s bad, who’s the best newcomer, whether Landon Donovan is dreamy or the dreamiest, or any of the other topics your garden-variety North American soccer writer preoccupies himself with.

However, I do have opinions. So here are four (non-playing) predictions for the coming MLS year.

MLS will continue to pick on its supporters. Back in January Los Angeles Galaxy supporters the Angel City Brigade were sanctioned by the league and the club[1] for the heinous and unprecedented crime of throwing streamers onto the pitch at the MLS Cup Final. For added justice, their punishment is also double jeopardy for earlier offenses that had already been dealt with. During the first eight matches of the season the Brigade will have no “supporters privileges” (a phrase which, itself, speaks volumes) and are forbidden streamers for all of 2015. If you think this overreaction is because the Galaxy supporters made MLS fans look too undignified in the league’s marquee event, you are probably being sensible. And if you then asked “hey, does MLS’s highlight video of that match have a bunch of approving shots of the Angel City Brigade with streamers and drums?” you’ve clearly seen these collective punishments before.

This very standard action by MLS met a very standard reaction from supporters. Various groups said “we stand with the ACB!” while spending huge sums on the single entity that majority-owns the Galaxy. The Brigade responded with “sanctions” of their own[2] that amount to not buying beer or merchandise from the Galaxy for four games. (Spend like mad at the fifth, of course!) Still buying tickets, still going to games and cheering their hearts out, still giving MLS much of what they want. That’ll show ’em.

So business as usual in Major League Soccer. Supporters are great when they look good on video and do coordinated, family-friendly chants, but corporate disapproval may come from anywhere and the suits’ vengeance has no appeal. Naturally there will never be any suggestion that, if MLS insists supporters exist to entertain its billionaires and promote its product, said supporters should find another outlet for their money and passion. The great cycle continues.

Watch for the next spit in the face of its most dedicated fans from Don Garber and company! It’s a surer sign of spring than the flowers opening.

MLS will continue to be sleazy. Another easy one! We are all familiar with the way MLS’s ill-defined allocation rules shift and twist when a player everyone’s heard of wants to go to a certain city. It’s one of the great mysteries of the universe how no team ever says “actually, Clint Dempsey, I think you’ll find you’re playing for Chivas USA now.”

Recently MLS and their players’ union agreed upon a collective bargaining agreement. The deal has not been made public; nothing unusual in that. But there was a total blackout over official MLS sources during negotiations that came very near to ruining the start of the season. When Gary Bettman locks out the NHL every few years he at least has to face the press; meanwhile, in MLS the official league site is gagged and a handful of dedicated beat reporters need to wrangle not-for-attribution tidbits from players and agents just so fans can have some idea what the hell’s going on.

Meanwhile, news from New York: MLS is sabotaging the NASL New York Cosmos in their bid to get a privately-funded soccer-specific stadium.[3]. MLS interference has been rumoured for some time but went on the public record courtesy New York Assemblyman Francisco Moya. This on top of throwing an expansion team at Atlanta to try and kill the NASL Silverbacks, continuing to poach the NASL’s best teams whenever possible, and working with a USL that, despite soothing words, still views NASL as an inferior upstart[4]. It’s a different side of the same coin: MLS isn’t interested in growing its game, or in growing supporters culture, just in growing its business. And the thing about a single-entity league with no promotion or relegation is that it is all one business.

MLS punditry is easy. If you identify their lowest possible motive, you’ve more than likely identified the correct one.

There will be more bad news for Canadians playing on Canadian MLS teams. About ten years ago the Vancouver Whitecaps hosted the Toronto Lynx to open the 2005 USL First Division season at Swangard Stadium. As was too typical for the Lynx it was a bore 0-0 draw. The only thing interesting about that game, ten years later, is that fifteen of twenty-two starters, and twenty-one players overall, were Canadians[5].

Tonight, when the Vancouver Whitecaps host Toronto FC, each team might start one Canadian. The Montreal Impact have already been busy, with two CONCACAF Champions League games in which no Canadians saw the field. With World Cup qualifiers and a Gold Cup this year, our top professional teams fly the flag of the United Nations. Again.

I know very few of you give a crap. But after years of the Whitecaps telling their fans “it is completely impossible to sign a Canadian from Europe! They demand payment in elephants made of gold!”, Sporting Kansas City recently signed standout Canadian international Marcel de Jong. It’s not difficult, they just don’t want to.

In Vancouver some fans who do pretend they care point to the Whitecaps signing a larger-than-usual number of players from their Residency program as a promising omen. It takes time to develop Canadian talent and the Whitecaps have only had twenty-nine years. Surely, surely, these young Canadians will be given the opportunity to break into the first team like Phil Davies and Bryce Alders… shit.

The new MLS reserve teams will be the most overrated development of the year. Reserve soccer is useful, obviously. There’s no replacement for a real match, and even if it’s not for the full stakes of a first-team game before 20,000 fans that experience does matter. Nobody denies this.

But as you know, this season the Whitecaps and many other MLS sides have moved their reserve teams to the newly-rebranded United Soccer League. Some people seem to think this particular incarnation of the MLS reserve program is going to be magic. Playing the Seattle Sounders reserves is one thing, but playing the Seattle Sounders reserves and the Harrisburg City Islanders, whoa, buy World Cup tickets now lads!

I don’t mean to pick on USL, who know their own business. Nor do I mean to pick on MLS (this one time), since they have a reserve program in an established, independent league that won’t get bored and go home like MLS’s reserve divisions always do. But Jesus, some people’s expectations! Some fans seem to think that playing MLS reserve games has suddenly become a ticket to the Premier League just because the name of the league has changed. “Three new professional teams! Whole new opportunities for our players!” I have a spreadsheet of the Whitecaps’ 2013 reserve players. Seven Canadians are on that list who were then over twenty years old and not on MLS contracts with the Whitecaps. How many of them are getting first-team minutes anywhere in the world right now? None!

Gagandeep Dosanjh had a promising start with FC Edmonton until his knee decided to stop working; that’s as close as you’re going to get. A few of those players — Yassin Essa, Brett Levis, Derrick Bassi — may be on the 2015 Whitecaps Reserves roster. Levis only got a cameo, but Essa and Bassi have been part of the Whitecaps Reserves pretty much since we joined MLS. Three years of reserve soccer is not what player development’s usually about.

I can’t speak for Toronto or Montreal, but in Vancouver the Whitecaps have filled out their reserve roster with available or interesting Canadians since they joined MLS. It’s the sensible thing to do. And it has led them nowhere. More games will help, obviously, but it’s no bloody revolution. The opposition will, if anything, be weaker, since MLS teams will be unable to send backup goalkeepers and bench players away to Richmond the same weekend they’ll be needed on the first team’s bench.

By the way, the attendance won’t be great either, not even for USL. Reserve team attendances around the world almost never are[6]. It’s curious that many of these same fans assume that the MLS/USL partnership spells certain doom for the NASL when about half of the USL’s independent clubs are shaky, it’s impossible MLS will make a profit on these teams, and they’ve scrapped their reserve program for financial reasons before.

(notes and comments…)

Standing with the MLS Players Union

By Benjamin Massey · March 3rd, 2015 · No comments

The beginning of the MLS season is under threat. As I wrote this article, top pundits upgraded the odds of a strike by MLS players from “50-50” to “near-certain”. Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hanson was fined by the league for calling the MLS Players Union’s demand for free agency “a go-nowhere conversation” and “a foolish waste of time”[1]. American federal mediators have been called in[2], as they were in 2010. These parties love extending negotiations to the last minute: that year a new collective bargaining agreement was signed five days before the season opener[3]. But as I write it is Tuesday, March 3, and the MLS season is due to start on Friday, March 6. This is cutting it a little close. Washington soccer reporter-king Steven Goff said that DC United players might skip their upcoming CONCACAF Champions League fixture without an agreement[4] and everybody in the MLS press, save the curiously mute league propagandists at MLSSoccer.com, is openly biting their fingernails.

We’re used to scoffing at “millionaires versus billionaires” when professional sports tangle with their unions, but that doesn’t apply here. MLS players put up with labour restrictions few would tolerate. The salary cap means that unless you’re a fancy imported designated player your wage is limited from the start. A player can be randomly sent to another country without their consent (or even advance knowledge) and no-trade clauses are unheard of. Not just trades but waivers, re-entry drafts, expansion drafts, weighted lotteries, the borderline-corrupt allocation process — small wonder few MLS players spend more than three seasons in one city. Their employment can be terminated without notice, for any reason, and they had to fight in 2010 just to get severance pay. The famous “2+2” contract, two mandatory seasons and a two-year team option, means a player doesn’t know whether he’ll be working for two years or four. And when that contract finally expires their options are limited: MLS teams retain the rights to ex-players in the same fashion that went out of baseball and hockey in the 1970s. Even players who’ve never set foot in MLS are restricted by discovery claims and allocation orders.

In exchange for all this sacrifice, many MLS players are paid less than their fans. In 2014 seven Toronto FC players, three Vancouver Whitecaps, and eleven members of the Montreal Impact earned less than $50,000*: they’d have trouble affording decent season tickets to their own games. They also have shorter careers than your average footy-goer: even the best will be out of soccer at 40 years old, just the time an office worker’s earnings are starting to peak. Their “retirement” means going to work in a different field missing decades of workplace experience: small wonder most wind up coaching soccer at some low, and low-paid, level. If you want to get rich, playing in Major League Soccer is just about the last way to do it.

A player chasing his dream of being a professional athlete can be expected to sacrifice his liberty. Or sacrifice his financial well-being. MLS players are asked to do both. An NASL player may well bank $20,000 with no health insurance while working construction over the winter, and some sign half-season contracts promising a few months of nothing like stability. Quite a few of these cheap-ass contracts aren’t guaranteed, either (it’s negotiated by the player). An NASL union would get a pretty good hearing, at least from players who could afford the dues. But at least there’s freedom: no salary cap stomping on a player’s head, no reserve clause tying him down when his contract ends. If an NASL player has a good season he may freely sign elsewhere in the league and make good money, guaranteed, with control over his future. If he has a bad season he may try his luck in another town without persuading the team to trade a draft pick or allocation money for his rights. Despite MLS’s vastly greater financial clout, such simple options are unavailable there.

If the MLS was insolvent, perhaps its players could take one for the team. But it’s not the late ’90s: Soccer United Marketing fills swimming pools with tens of millions in expansion fees from eager investors. Big name talents like David Villa are paid league-record sums while new signings earn the wages of a McDonald’s fry cook. Last year, Jermain Defoe earned $6.18 million, Michael Bradley $6.5 million, Clint Dempsey nearly $6.7 million. Kaka, a past-his-prime player for an expansion team, will bank over $7 million. David Villa and Sebastian Giovinco are expected to both exceed $7 million total compensation. It is flatly impossible for MLS to cry poor, though God knows they’re trying.

Let’s compare them to another league with some strong teams, a fair few weak ones, and too much expansion. The top-paid NHL player in the 2014-15 season is Shea Weber, with a nominal salary of $14 million per season (slightly over the current maximum of $13.8 million). The NHL minimum salary is $550,000. So while the highest-paid NHL players are approximately twice as well-paid as their MLS counterparts, the cheapest NHL player makes more than fifteen times the salary of an MLSer on his league minimum, $36,500.

Last year the mean MLS player salary was $226,454.26, though that includes the marquee designated players. Remove the fifteen players making over a million dollars and that drops to $131,524.39. The median salary, $90,000, shows even more clearly how the biggest earners skew the numbers. Decent enough money for all that, but it leaves 145 players league-wide making less than $50,000[5]. The NHL average salary, by comparison, is $2.58 million[6]: more than eleven times better than his MLS equivalent even by the most generous measurement.

So the players have a superb argument against the league. Fans, on the other hand, might just want soccer to come back. In practice, that means cheering for the owners, and every Facebook call of “come on lads sort it out” seems to amount to “give up the fight, you’re paid to play a game and we’re waiting”. Labour disputes bring out the most jaded and cynical, especially in North America where athletes make stratospheric amounts of cash and (at least in the NHL) are locked out every couple of years. Such apathy is common, but this time could not be more misplaced. The fans have almost as much to gain as the players do.

A few benefits would be visible on the field. True free agency would inevitably increase the quality of the league. Players frozen out of MLS, rights were owned by a team unwilling to deal, would be able to return. This won’t affect top talent but can only mean an improvement for the bulk of the roster. Moreover, any increase in the market power of ordinary players results in additional spending on said ordinary players. A world where depth fullbacks make $80,000 instead of $50,000 is a world where more, and better, players are in your price range. The salary cap would have to increase, or DPs would have to lose out: bad news for overpaid has-beens who get millions because they’re good marketing value. Good news for most of the men on the field, and the fans who watch them.

In the end, though, such concerns will appeal mostly to the die-hard and have an affect that’s real, but relatively minor. The pitch is not the main battleground. This CBA battle is, ultimately, a conflict between a restrictive, centralized MLS that infuriates and even attacks those who should be most important to it and a players union that, even if by accident, is fighting for long-awaited liberalization.

Look at how the negotiations have lined up. As is standard with the league, obfuscation and misinformation has flowed like a river of sewage. Despite record attendances, enormous expansion fees, and spending like Qatari oil sheiks on new players, MLS commissioner Don Garber insists the league is losing over $100 million annually[7]. It would, of course, be unthinkable to reduce the $56,272,755.51 MLS paid its fifteen best-paid players in 2014, even though that’s just slightly less than the total guaranteed compensation for every non-Designated Player in MLS. Owners like Hansen and MLS PR flacks insist that free agency is impossible with a single-entity structure, but there’s no logical reason why. Goff (that man again!) said that MLS actually offered free agency restricted to incredibly limited criteria[8]; under this proposal, the entire 2016 free agent class would be Houston’s Brad Davis[9]. Fun though it is to imagine TSN’s MLS Free Agent Frenzy special, with Jason deVos and Luke Wileman texting Davis every couple minutes for four hours, you can’t call that a serious offer.

Insisting free agency is legally impossible, then offering free agency but restricting it to one guy. Oh, turns out free agency is possible after all, the owners just don’t want it. Saying that the league loses nine figures every year despite banking a reported $170 million in expansion fees for New York City FC and Orlando City, and enormous player spending that suggests somebody’s got cash. The official league press not mentioning the union’s stories, just in case MLSSoccer.com readers start to do some thinking (these negotiations have put paid, forever, to anybody crying “MLSSoccer.com isn’t propaganda!”). Does this sound typical of MLS yet?

Of course a victory for the players’ union won’t change MLS’s soul, to the extent it has one. But true free agency — no discovery, no allocation claims, no lingering rights in re-entry drafts, nothing — would inevitably mean a more transparent league. Who owns that guy’s rights? See whose roster he’s on. If he’s not on one, nobody owns them. Little room for uncertainty or even fraud: many fans have noticed how MLS’s allocation rules seem to change every time a marquee player should join a particular team. Secret laws and numbers cooked up in New York City conference rooms and never, ever shared with the public in case they detect inconsistencies affect every single MLS transaction. Nothing the players can do will change all of that this year, but every time they push on the door they let a little more light in. Eventually, not tomorrow but in ten years, it will be open. Provided the players are victorious.

(notes and comments…)

Oh No, Guys, New York City FC Isn’t Full of Home-Made Supporters Love

By Benjamin Massey · February 18th, 2015 · 2 comments

It's hard to illustrate this post. (Blue and White Army under a Creative Commons license)

It’s hard to illustrate this post. (Blue and White Army via Flickr under a Creative Commons license)

I love to rant about supporters getting screwed over by Major League Soccer but sometimes pity don’t come easy.

SB Nation’s New York City FC blog Hudson River Blue recently righteously skewered a particularly pernicious piece of front-office plasticity[1]. New York City FC sent an “online research study”[2] to its Lampard-less supporters soliciting an official nickname for the team’s “twelfth man”. The hackneyed phrase “twelfth man” alone is get-thee-to-a-nunnery stuff, used only by odious men in shiny suits holding up t-shirt designs and talking about “social media engagement”. Adding a bucket of uninspired corporate suggestions makes it all the goofier.

Sam Dunn of Hudson River Blue, like anybody liable to read this obscure Canadian soccer website, believes that these sorts of traditions should develop organically from the supporters rather than be proclaimed from on high by marketing gurus. From Timber Joey on down the best, most lasting traditions that resonate in the stands for the long-term always come from fans creating and embracing them. Sure, the club might get on board (witness the little rally rabbit on the back of FC Edmonton’s kit; a supporter-birthed nickname come to life) but it’s the genesis that determines what’s part of the club’s heritage and what’s cynical marketing trash.

This view is, undeniably, correct. And yet I laugh at the poor, insulted New York City FC supporters. Fake club shocks fans with its fakeness! Idiots outraged!

People who say “soccer culture always grows organically” are palpably full of it: New York City FC’s very supporters are proof. How do you “organically” develop a supporter’s frenzied passion for the farm team of a big European club that has never played a game and lives in a baseball stadium? Nor is anything “organic” about the thousands who never cared for USL-1 soccer in Toronto, Seattle, Portland, or Vancouver suddenly becoming frenzied supporters when the cities joined MLS like a switch had been flipped. The norm in Major League Soccer is big marketing, soccer teams named “FC” offering twee faux-British match experiences sanitized and turned into a theme park for the hip North American crowd. Some clubs are better, some are worse, but all participate. This plastic bullshit is the game you’ve chosen.

And if you signed on with New York City FC, a team conceived as an expansion of existing sports brands, hatched as a marketing concept, and raised with fake players to sell season tickets, you have even less of an excuse. What did you think was going to happen, the offspring of the soulless New York Yankees, cash-for-titles Manchester City, and Soccer United Marketing would bring a small, supporter-focused local club to the intimate confines of New Yankee Stadium? No you didn’t, because you’re not demented. You must have known what you were getting into and if you didn’t you had no excuse.

So my sympathy turns into giggling, my criticising NYCFC is drowned out by the tones of the world’s smallest violin. Of all MLS’s problems, New York City fans getting exactly what they were promised is way down there.

(notes and comments…)

The Camilo Affair, the Legality, and the Morality

By Benjamin Massey · January 6th, 2014 · 26 comments

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

I’ll admit it, I’m surprised. I thought it was all RUMMOR and hot air but no, it looks like Camilo is off to Mexico after all. ESPN’s Paty Fernández tweeted a photo of Camilo proudly holding his new Querétaro shirt[1] after, as Marc Weber pointed out[2], Camilo’s agent Tweeted Fernández from Querétaro asking if they could talk[3].

We don’t know for sure what’s happened, but it looks like Camilo has broken his contract, on which the Whitecaps already announced they were exercising their option[4], and has fled for the border like many a crook before.

There have been questions raised about the legality of team options in soccer. If Camilo is going to try and pull a Jean-Marc Bosman and rewrite contract practice then he’s a brave man; team options are so deeply entrenched a part of MLS that one doubts they’d roll over at a challenge. Yet, and as a Whitecaps fan I hate to admit it, Camilo does have a leg to stand on. There have been issues with “unilateral options” in soccer before, most of which went the player’s way. I am, to an almost unbelievable extent, not a lawyer, but I tried to do some reading. I welcome informed criticism on all these points.

One volume I found partially available online, CAS and Football: Landmark Cases edited by Alexander Wild, a lawyer at the German firm Dr. Falkenstein & Partner, gives some details. I’m going off the Google Books preview here; I hope you’ll understand if I don’t drop $112 for your sake. The authors, at least in Chapter 5 pertaining to “unilateral options”, seem biased in favour of players and I can’t vouch for their accuracy, but they look honest and provide good factual information with informed analysis. The Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) “has been relatively hostile to [unilateral option] clauses, though it has not ruled them out completely.”[5] “No unilateral option had ever been declared absolutely void under all circumstances.”[6]. In the case of Sotirios Kyrgiakos of Pananthinaikos, for example, the CAS ruled in Pananthinaikos’s favour, saying that Kyrgiakos’s team option was valid. Kyrgiakos received a significant pay increase in his option year, accepted Pananthinaikos exercising an earlier team option, and had only complained the next time when he had better career prospects. This is reportedly the only case in which the CAS and FIFA Dispute Resolution Committee both ruled in favour of upholding a unilateral option[7]. But, of course, that ignores any unilateral options which never got that far, and isn’t wholly consistent with the Almirón case, discussed below.

There are a few cases of unilateral options being rejected: FIFPro lists some on their website[8], though they obviously have a very vested interest and their seemingly-blanket assurance that “this case is not valid” seems at odds with precedent. The most famous, and most clear cut, example, is the so-called “Bueno-Rodríguez case”. This refers to two Uruguayan players, Carlos Bueno and Cristian Rodríguez, under contract to Club Atlético Peñarol. Peñarol attempted to exercise an option on the two players who wished for higher pay, the players refused to accept this, and after rulings by the FIFA DRC and the CAS the players were found to be free agents (Bueno now plays in Argentina, Rodríguez with Atlético Madrid).

The similarities between the Bueno-Rodríguez case and Camilo’s situation are more than skin deep. According to Wild et al the Uruguayan Football Player’s Statute at the time provided that a contract “may be extended by the club until the second 31 December following the date of termination of the initial contract.”[9]. Such two-year team options, often combined with two-year standard deals and known as “2+2 contracts”, are commonplace in MLS. Bueno and Rodríguez were entitled to a raise corresponding to the rate of inflation; since MLS is so secretive we don’t know what Camilo’s raise would have been in his option year, but if it was marginal that’s a bad sign for MLS. Bueno and Rodríguez refused to report to Peñarol, disputing the validity of the unilateral options. The pair were suspended and put on a list of “rebellious” players but Paris Saint-Germain signed them months later, insisting the pair were free agents[10]. The authorities, eventually, agreed, and Peñarol received no compensation. The Uruguayan player’s statute has now been modified[11]. Camilo is still in his off-season so hadn’t walked out as Bruno and Rodríguez did. Therefore he hasn’t been placed on any “rebellious” list, which was a factor against Peñarol in the Bueno-Rodríguez case[12] but ultimately a side issue. In the words of a later paper by Diego F.R. Compaire, Gerardo Planás, and Stefan-Eric Wildemann in 2009, a masters thesis which received an award from FIFA, “unilateral options are in general terms not recognized by FIFA and the Court of Arbitration for Sport unless they incorporate some specific elements which work for the clear and acceptable advantage of the player.”[13].

For example, in the case of Javier Alejandro Almirón vs. Club Atlético Janus, Almirón not only received a 15% per year raise in his contract if the unilateral team option was exercised, he was paid $18,000 in exchange for the club having the right of unilateral extension. When Almirón attempted to break his contract with Janus and join Spain’s Polideportivo Ejido SAD, the FIFA DRC found in favour of Janus and awarded the club $68,000 compensation, as it was clear Almirón knew and understood that he had given Janus the right to extend his contract unilaterally and accepted compensation for that right[14]. Even in this case, Almirón did not return to Janus (which is perhaps why FIFPro lists the Almirón case as an example of an invalid unilateral option; like I said, they have a strong interest in the matter).

So did Camilo receive “specific elements which work for the clear and acceptable advantage of the player” in his contract? If Camilo’s option years were at or near the same pay as his initial contract, MLS might be in trouble under the Bueno-Rodríguez precedent and other, less closely-related cases. But if he received a big raise then the Almirón and Kyrgiakos precedents look promising, though not clear-cut, and it’s unlikely in any event Camilo will ever wear a Whitecaps kit again.

Above all this stands the sheer exceptionality of MLS: it is a soccer league like no other in the world. There is a widely accepted principle in FIFA contract precedent that their rulings apply internationally, even in the face of domestic contract law: this is called lex sportiva. Yet MLS is a very odd bear, with many aspects (players signing contracts with the league rather than teams, drafting, salary cap and contract restrictions, non-guaranteed contracts, etc. etc. ad nauseum) completely at odds with world practice. MLS has a certified players union and signed collective bargaining agreements with the MLSPU in 2004 and 2010. This is, to my knowledge, unique in world soccer, though in line with other North American professional sports, and all told MLS’s characteristics can’t help but mean an unpredictable result.

If Camilo winds up knocking down the whole rotten structure of MLS contract practice then some good will come of this sordid affair after all. To my knowledge MLS’s contract practices have not yet been challenged in arbitration. But that’s a massive “if”, and by keeping quiet until he could bolt in the night, Camilo has done the Whitecaps a serious injury when he should have been negotiating in good faith.

Possibly the Whitecaps, or somebody at the league, failed to exercise Camilo’s team option correctly. Such things do happen: see the 2009 NHL example where Chicago Blackhawks general manager Dale Tallon forgot to send qualifying offers to his marquee restricted free agents[15]. In that case, because the NHL is a cartel, the Blackhawks more-or-less got away with Tallon’s potentially-franchise-killing blunder. MLS is not so lucky and if the Whitecaps or the league screwed this up then we can expect FIFA to tell them where to shove that contract of theirs. Absent any evidence that is the case, though, any idiotic forum members or Twitterers who blame the Whitecaps for having a star player under contract and not preventing him from dishonouring it with magic mind control rays are invited to stick their faces into a wood chipper.

If things are all as they appear to be then, as a fan, regardless of all legal aspects, I would no longer piss on Camilo if he was on fire. Whether he signed his contract in bad faith, or simply decided to break his word to his club, his fans, and his former comrades when he saw a financial advantage is irrelevant: it is the act of a scoundrel. The Whitecaps have problems, and I’ve written about them at some length. The Alain Rochat debacle, to name just one, is a stain on Whitecaps honour that will not be erased for some time. They need to straighten themselves out in more ways than one; I’m not so naïve to deny that. But that would never excuse Camilo’s lies. Integrity is not optional. A decent human being is not honest only to people he likes or when he isn’t hurt by it. The fact that Camilo is receiving a big payday for his deceit is not justification, it’s further condemnation: in any walk of life we scorn people who lie, dissemble, and betray just to make millions and sports should be no exception. It’s a disgusting attitude from a player who, frankly, I expected better from. If Camilo’s six-digit salary wasn’t enough for him then he was welcome to ask for a transfer or to renegotiate his contract, as he did before the 2012 season. Instead he bolted like a thief in the night, which is an alarmingly appropriate simile.

Suffice to say that, even if legal muscle comes down entirely in the Whitecaps’ favour and Camilo is forced to play out his contract I hope Vancouver pays him to sit at home and eat cheeseburgers, because I don’t want people like that on my team.

At least we don’t have to deal with the argument over whether he should play for Canada anymore.

(notes and comments…)

Camilo Misses the MLS Best XI; Fans Roll With Laughter

By Benjamin Massey · December 3rd, 2013 · 3 comments

Bob Frid/Canadian Soccer Association

Bob Frid/Canadian Soccer Association

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this, but Camilo not being named to the MLS Best XI is a little hilarious. The best XI would have been funny even if Camilo had been on it; a 3-4-3?! But let’s stick to the forwards forwards, voted on by “MLS players, club leadership, and media members.”[1] The three forwards were Mike Magee, Robbie Keane, and Marco Di Vaio: two high-profile European internationals and one American long associated with the league’s favourite team.

No Camilo? Anybody who’s watched Vancouver Whitecaps games this year will know what an impact Camilo had on the field, scoring plenty of goals and getting himself on the highlight reel more than once, including one of the final four for MLS Goal of the Year[2]. The Whitecaps didn’t make the playoffs, but even if you subscribe to the idea that team performance matters for individual honours, Vancouver was a slightly-above-average offensive team and Camilo bagged 41.5% of its goals. He was a larger contributor to his team’s offense than any other MLS player, and his team’s offense was pretty good. So team considerations shouldn’t impact this case even to those who, inexplicably, rate such things.

Those are subjective concerns, though. Here at Maple Leaf Forever! we like math. Is Camilo let down by the statistics?[3]

Here are MLS’s top five goalscorers in the 2013 regular season: Camilo (22), Mike Magee (21), Marco Di Vaio (20), Robbie Keane (16), Diego Fagundez and Dominic Oduro (13).

But should a player be rewarded for simply getting more minutes than his adversaries? Not usually; that’s why we have rate statistics. Here are MLS’s top five goalscorers, sorted by goals per 90 minutes: Camilo (0.819), Alvaro Saborio (0.802), Robbie Keane (0.727), Mike Magee (0.677), Marco Di Vaio (0.655).

However, goals are often a matter of luck. Shots on target are frequently a more reliable indicator of a player’s true quality over the course of a season. So here are the top five players in shots on target per 90 minutes among the top 50 scorers this season: Camilo (2.047), Marco Di Vaio (1.737), Mike Magee (1.611), Chris Wondolowski (1.517), Dilly Duka (1.409).

Some would argue shots directed are even more reliable. So here are the top five players in shots directed per 90 minutes among the top 50 scorers this season: Camilo (4.578), Darren Mattocks (4.446; no, seriously), Deshorn Brown (4.025), Marco Di Vaio (3.867), Soony Saad (3.858).

Perhaps you prefer a more all-round comparison than merely shooting and scoring. So here is the list of all the MLS players who, in the 2013 season, scored at least 15 goals and at least five assists: Camilo, Robbie Keane.

By the numbers, Camilo was the most accomplished forward in Major League Soccer for 2013 by almost any reasonable measurement, stumbling slightly compared to Keane when assists are considered, or compared to Di Vaio when penalties are removed, but ahead of Magee at all times and leading the pack in so many categories it makes the head spin. By the eye, Camilo was staggeringly magnificent on a consistent basis for a striker, and was perhaps the major reason the Whitecaps were in playoff contention at all. I’d have called his Best XI nod a no-brainer, but it seems I underestimated how few brains we were dealing with.

Anybody who didn’t vote Camilo as a forward in their MLS best XI wasn’t watching the games and wasn’t paying attention to the statistics. It raises the question, what the hell was he doing?

EDIT, 14:36 December 3: this article originally omitted Robbie Keane as a player with 15+ goals and 5+ assists.

(notes and comments…)

The Problem With the MLS All-Star Game

By Benjamin Massey · July 31st, 2013 · 4 comments

Initially, I was going to spend some of these thoughts on Two Fat Bastards in the increasingly-unlikely-seeming event that we manage to successfully record one. But they got a little wordy and eventually it was clear the podcast was liable to become an MLS All-Star rant. Which would be completely unacceptable, because we need to talk about Landon Donovan too.

I’m no Eurosnob. I love many North American innovations in the world’s game. Salary caps, playoffs, even drafting unaffiliated young players, all of those things improve the sport in my books. The MLS All-Star Game should be on that good list. League all-stars versus a major international club is a potentially compelling format and one that could never be duplicated by any of the other North American leagues. The MLS players have something legitimate to play for: there are few better opportunities for your average MLS star to show the world how he handles first-class competition. And, whatever you think of European worship in North American soccer, seeing a major team from abroad kick a ball against familiar faces in something like anger is a rare treat. In short, on principle I am all for an MLS all-star game. The big European leagues don’t have them, but since they prefer match-fixing, title buying, corruption, and chronic bankruptcy I don’t consider their opinion relevant.

I have one, and only one, problem with the MLS All-Star Game. It is, however, serious. By making it a mid-week game Major League Soccer tangibly mauls its regular season for the sake of what is still only a friendly. And that’s terrible.

Other leagues don’t put themselves in this situation. In Major League Baseball, the recent All-Star Game on July 16 was preceded by an off day on July 15 and two off days on July 17 and 18[1]: a very generous break in a league where teams play about eight days out of every nine[2]. The National Football League famously plays its all-star game after the regular season[3]. The NHL, for whom two games in two days is like two games in a week to an MLS team, gives their players less but still something: in 2012, the last year to feature an NHL All-Star Game players the last regular season game was January 25 for the All-Star Game on January 29. Regular season play resumed on January 31[4]. Even this break, good for its sport compared to MLS, is routinely criticized for putting too much strain on the star players. In addition, after Nagano 1998 the NHL began canceling its All-Star Game during Winter Olympic years, which might be relevant to those MLS All-Stars who have just finished up the Gold Cup. Finally, the National Basketball Association, infamous for a schedule that works many of its players beyond the breaking point, gives two days off prior to its All-Star game and one day off after (most teams in 2013 got three days off before)[5].

Some leagues offer better All-Star breaks to its marquee players (baseball, the NFL) and some worse (the NHL). None, however, ask what MLS asks. When an MLS team plays a midweek game in the regular season it’s something the manager has to carefully plan around to avoid breaking his team. Squad rotation is almost obligatory, especially if there’s travel between games. Such games are dreaded by managers, but at least come with the consolation that the other team is playing mid-week too: at most times it will almost even out. Not the MLS All-Star Game. Nearly every player gets on a flight there and a flight back, some longer than others. If your player goes 90 minutes, as Steven Beitashour, Jay DeMerit, and Dwayne De Rosario did last year, then you better hope your opposition is feeling too lazy to exploit it. (Beitashour’s Earthquakes were fortunate to draw a winnable game to Chicago with Beitashour missing the game entirely, DeMerit’s Whitecaps lost to Salt Lake with DeMerit playing conspicuously badly, and De Rosario’s DC United had the weekend off, the lucky bastards).

Imagine the NHL scheduling its All-Star game the day after those stars play in the regular season. Imagine a Major League Baseball team playing a day game, then a night-time All-Star double-header. In relative terms, that’s what the MLS All-Star Game is. It’s not a spectacle, it’s an obstacle.

All-star games in most leagues also serve a second purpose that isn’t important to anybody but the players. In any league other than MLS, non-All-Star players get to enjoy the All-Star break as a little mid-season vacation. It will probably be their longest stretch without a game and this allows a few days of relaxation and fun for the rank and file almost unheard of in professional sports these days. Not in MLS. Most teams have to play the weekend after the All-Star game. It’s business as usual in Vancouver this week for everybody but Camilo.

If MLS scheduled its All-Star Game on its own weekend then who could possibly complain? Hell, pull an NFL, hold the All-Star game the weekend before the MLS Cup final, and only stage it in warm-weather cities or indoor stadiums. Either way players not selected would enjoy a weekend off. All-Stars would put in extra work but nothing different from their routine. The game itself would benefit from being its own spectacle rather than a distraction before the real games in a few days. Everybody would win. Sure, MLS may have to make scheduling sacrifices, but that compromise is nothing compared to what they’re asking their All-Stars to do today.

The problem, I suspect, is the same problem we see with so many MLS decisions. To the millionaires who run the league it’s the regular season that’s the distraction, an unpleasant business that may be necessary but detracts from the European friendlies, All-Star games, MLS Cups, and other Marquee Events they can feel important at. No MLS team is innocent of putting Marquee Events, however irrelevant and even harmful to their competition, ahead of the ordinary games and the thousands of devoted fans paying top dollar for him. Every mid-week all-star game, every mid-season friendly, every World Football Challenge is another demonstration that Major League Soccer considers its own league play a lower priority to getting AS Roma onto one of their teams’ turf.

It’s hilarious hearing people within the league talking about how MLS has become a world-class league when their actions demonstrate they don’t believe it themselves.

(notes and comments…)

PDO for Teams in the MLS West Through July 22

By Benjamin Massey · July 22nd, 2013 · 3 comments

Presented with slight comment: the 2013 season PDOs for all teams in the MLS Western Conference through July 22, 2013. The first installment was on May 6 and the second was on June 20.

Team GF GA SoGF SoGA S% Sv% PDO
Chivas USA 18 34 66 110 27.27% 69.09% 96.36
Colorado 26 24 87 90 29.89% 73.33% 103.22
Dallas 27 27 98 109 27.55% 75.23% 102.78
Los Angeles 32 25 106 72 30.19% 65.28% 95.47
Portland 30 18 97 86 30.93% 79.07% 110.00
Salt Lake 33 20 115 94 28.70% 78.72% 107.42
San Jose 21 32 84 105 25.00% 69.52% 94.52
Seattle 22 21 68 77 32.35% 72.73% 105.08
Vancouver 33 28 93 88 35.48% 68.18% 103.67

For those not familiar with PDO, it is a back-of-the-envelope calculation which helps indicate how lucky a team is. Shooting percentages and save percentages in soccer tend to regress to the mean: an extremely low or extremely high value is very, very unlikely to be sustained. By definition, the sum of a league average shooting percentage and a league average save percentage will be 100. Therefore if we add a team’s shooting percentage to its save percentage and see how far it is from 100, we have a fairly good idea how far a team’s percentages are below/above the mean. This number is called a team’s PDO number. The number was invented for hockey but has been applied in soccer as well by advanced statistics mavens in several countries, including this site.

Therefore, teams with high PDOs should expect to fall back to Earth; teams with low PDOs should expect them to rise (though I suspect that teams with extremely high or extremely poor shooting differentials may be more prone to extreme PDOs). The highest PDO in Major League Soccer last year was the Seattle Sounders with 109.12; the lowest was Chivas USA with 87.78.

Since last we spoke Los Angeles (very slightly), Portland, and Salt Lake have moved further away from our magic 100.00 mark, while all other teams have come closer. Take a close look at Portland in particular. If you believe that Donovan Ricketts, a career 72.77% goalkeeper who turned 36 a couple weeks ago[1], is going to keep up his 79.22% this year I would be very much interested in hearing your reasoning. Perhaps you’d like to consult the Seattle Sounders fans convinced that Michael Gspurning’s 79.73% last year was the real deal and that they’re a team which is always going to have a high PDO for whatever reason because magic. (Portland is a good team and even if their PDO regresses they’ll be fine, but Seattle is a lousy team and watching their PDO come back to earth makes me touch myself.)

We should probably give Salt Lake a little slack for high PDO, though only a little. They’re on a +1.000 SoG/90 differential so far this year and spend a fair bit of time on the wrong end of score effects, which will cause a bump in their PDO. Salt Lake is in an argument with Los Angeles for “scariest damned team in the Western Conference” (the Galaxy’s SoG/90 differential? +1.619! I’m expecting them to start whipping teams like they did Vancouver this past weekend any day now. Carlo Cudicini is really not working out for them at all).

Since this is a Vancouver-based blog, let’s give the Whitecaps special attention. Vancouver went from a 95.24 PDO on June 20 to a 103.67 PDO today. Not coincidentally, they’ve been winning a lot of games in that time. Now, in the big picture 103.67 isn’t too far out of true: the Whitecaps’ current position is nearly fair. Most of their PDO increase has come through raising their save percentage from “low” to “about average”, which is fine. But watch that shooting percentage: 33.33% is the highest shooting percentage in the Western Conference. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but eventually fewer Whitecaps shots are going to go in and we’re going to see a rehash of annoying articles asking why none of Vancouver’s forwards can finish like we had late last year and early this one.

(notes and comments…)

Assists, First and Second, Home and Away, Among Leading Playmakers in Major League Soccer

By Benjamin Massey · June 22nd, 2013 · No comments

Lewis/Canadian Soccer Association

Lewis/Canadian Soccer Association

From the statistical perspective, assists are a pain in the ass.

Playmakers deserve credit for their contributions to the offense, of course. But assists can be subjective. Some scorers are inclined to give an assist to an attacking player who just happened to touch the ball before the scorer did all the work.

This has been a minor preoccupation of mine for a few months. I’m particularly worried about “second assists”, which are not only even more subjective but, arguably, mostly meaningless for evaluating a playmaker’s chops. For example, in Wednesday’s game against Chivas USA, Russell Teibert got a second assist on Jordan Harvey’s goal[1]. If you haven’t seen the highlights (this goal starts at 3:15), Teibert did a good job retaining possession in the Chivas USA eighteen-yard box but was aggressively challenged and somewhat awkwardly tried to slide the ball over to Camilo. Camilo failed to possess the pass and it happened to ricochet over to Harvey.

Now, I am the biggest Russell Teibert fan outside of the Teibert family, but that assist given for an awkward pass leading to an accidental setup meant that Teibert tied for the MLS lead in assists. It’s hard to imagine a scorer outside BC Place giving Teibert credit for that one, and if I were one of the players tied with Teibert for the assists lead I might be pretty upset. And so sorting players by their first assists only becomes more valuable.

I looked at players who have finished top five in Major League Soccer in assists since 2010, with ties, including players who are top five so far this season. The reason I picked 2010 rather than my usual start date of 2008 is because MLSSoccer.com game logs are only available starting in 2010; there were 20 players in all. All assists are categorized as “first” or “second”; the player who makes a pass immediately leading to a goal and is credited with an assist by MLS is the first assist, the player who passes to the player with the first assist and is credited with an assist by MLS is the second assist[2].

The table itself is enormous even by the impressive standards of Maple Leaf Forever! tables and is after the jump.

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