Category Archives: Blog

At Northern Pitch, a look at what LA’s stadium plan means for Minnesota – including a one-act play in which Bill McGuire and Nick Rogers receive a special visitor. Plus, a look at how the NASL is pushing the MLS out of its “chosen league in a chosen land” comfort zone in the Week 12 MLS Preview.

Episode 106 of The Sportive got jubilant over the Timberwolves winning the draft lottery, but sad about the end of Letterman.

At SoccerCentric, I learned to love the Champions League, and wondered why more attention isn’t paid to Liga MX, the USA’s most popular soccer league.

For the first time in podcast history, all four of us physically gathered in one spot. The result was perhaps not our most cohesive podcast – at one point, two people were having two different conversations with other people who were not holding microphones – but it was just a blast to get everyone together.

I haven’t been posting updates here with stuff from the site – we won Best Sports Podcast from the City Pages, did you know? –  but head over to thesportive.com if you’d like more from us.

At the beginning of 2014, just eight of the 23 eventual members of the USA’s squad for the summer’s World Cup were playing in Major League Soccer. Since then, though, the great repatriation has hardly ceased. Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey were in MLS by the time the 2014 season began. Jermaine Jones and DaMarcus Beasley made the trip weeks after the World Cup ended. Two more team members, Mix Diskerud and Jozy Altidore, sealed their own big-money MLS contracts in the 2014-25 offseason – and suddenly far more than half of last year’s national team are now MLS players.

No one would begrudge any of the six their chances, of course. Altidore was the butt of jokes among Sunderland fans, and will instead have a chance to repair his image in Toronto. Jones was the USA’s breakout player at the World Cup, and took his chance to cash in by moving to New England. Beasley wanted to move back from Mexico for one last throw of the dice in America. Dempsey got an offer he couldn’t refuse in Seattle. Roma got $10 million for Bradley, and Bradley got the chance to move back to North America.

Suddenly, the USA has gone from shipping its best players abroad, to paying them big money at home. Dempsey ($6.7 million) and Bradley ($6.5 million) were the Major League Soccer’s two highest-paid players last year, a strike against the notion that the league’s Designated Players are mostly over-the-hill stars from Europe. Jones ($3.25 million) clocked in to the top ten list of highest-paid players after he signed, as well. Even less big-name players, like Matt Besler and Graham Zusi in Kansas City, got big raises – both now make just over $600,000, where Besler used to make $200,000 and Zusi slightly less than $400,000.

Before last year’s World Cup, the Pew Research Center published an infographic, showing where the players at the World Cup played their club soccer. Perhaps not surprisingly, impoverished yet soccer-rich countries shipped the most players abroad; just nine of Africa’s 115 representatives played in their country’s own domestic league, as did just four of the 46 from Eastern Europe and the vast majority of the South and Central American players. At the time, the USA – with 13 players abroad – was solidly in the middle tier, with other first-world but second-class soccer countries like Australia, South Korea, and Japan.

On the other side of the ledger, though, were two countries with interesting lessons for America. One was England, which had only one player abroad – and that the third-string goalkeeper, Fraser Forster, who had only gone as far as Scotland and thus hadn’t even left the borders of his own country. The other was Russia, who uniquely among the 32 nations had brought not a single player who played in a league from outside his home country.

There are similarities between the two leagues. England hosts the world’s highest-profile club league, and the vast television riches collected by the Premier League mean that young English players can stay near home and yet get paid better than anywhere else in the world. Russia, too, has seen an influx of oil money in the domestic game, with big clubs from St. Petersburg and Moscow pouring cash into players’ pockets, keeping them at home to play in one of Europe’s mid-tier competitions. Even rich, highly competitive leagues like Germany (six players abroad) and Spain (nine) sent players outside the country’s borders.

Money pouring in, players wanting to stay home and make big money instead of fighting for scraps overseas – this has to sound familiar to US national team fans. On the one hand, a league like England brings in so many overseas players that national-team fans fret that young players might never get to develop; on the flip side, Russia did so poorly at the 2014 World Cup that the country’s soccer association is seriously considering splitting off the national team into a neo-Red Army side and having them play in the domestic league – in hopes of combating the middling level of competition in the Russian league by building team unity.

The latter worries sound familiar to American fans, who have long argued over whether it was better for American players to go abroad or stay near home. National team coach Jürgen Klinsmann has added fuel to the fire by publicly encouraging young American players to head overseas to test themselves with the big clubs, rather than being content to stay in MLS; his World Cup squad, which included four German-born, German-trained players, was enough to signal to most just how he viewed the American development system.

It’s hard to argue with a player who wants to move home and make big money. But it’s also hard not to look at England and Russia, both of which have struggled mightily on the national stage, and wonder if the combination of money and the lure of home might contribute to the same kind of national-team problems that Russia and England are currently facing.

Forbes.com reported today that Major League baseball league-wide revenues jumped from $8 billion in 2013 to $9 billion in 2014, mostly due to the league’s new national TV contracts and to revenue from MLB Advanced Media, the league’s online streaming arm.

A look back: In 2001, revenue was $3.6 billion; adjusted for inflation, $4.66 billion in today’s dollars, according to Forbes. That year, three MLB teams had payrolls over $100 million; the Yankees led the way with just over $112 million. 16 more had more than $50 million in payroll that season. Since then, revenue has doubled, more or less. The Dodgers had a $235 million payroll last year, and the Yankees nearly cleared the bar to $200 million as well. 14 other teams had payrolls of at least $100 million.

$200 million is the new $100 million, when it comes to payroll. $100 million is the new $50 million.

Since Target Field opened in 2010, the median MLB payroll has gone from $85 million to $107 million – right in line with revenue, which just like the median payroll, has jumped 25% in that five-year span. During that same period, the Twins’ payroll has declined, from $98 million to $85million. Don’t let the Twins fool you; they will try to tell you that they’re spending plenty of money. They aren’t.

Remember this the next time Terry Ryan or Dave St. Peter talks about being “fiscally responsible.” Remember this the next time your neighbor complains about Joe Mauer’s contract being the problem with the Twins. Remember that MLB’s revenue explosion, and the great gobs of taxpayer money that funded Target Field, mean that the Twins are making more money now than they ever have before – indeed more money than they could ever have dreamed of.

They’re just pocketing it, instead of spending it on improving the team.

Today, groups from Las Vegas, Sacramento, and Minneapolis-St Paul are in New York, making their pitches for a Major League Soccer expansion franchise. Minnesota actually has two groups making pitches – the Minnesota Vikings, and a Minnesota United-led consortium that appears to (but does not officially) involve the owners of the Twins, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, and Hennepin County.

Much has been debated about what MLS is looking for, but financials will likely play a big part in the decision. Here now, a few statistics, comparing the three cities.

POPULATION – A decent proxy for the potential market for fans. (source)
14. MINNEAPOLIS-ST PAUL
24. SACRAMENTO
30. LAS VEGAS

TOP TV MARKETS – A measure of how attractive would a city be for a TV contract, given that this is one of the prime drivers of league-wide revenue. (source)
15. MINNEAPOLIS-ST PAUL
20. SACRAMENTO
42. LAS VEGAS

FORTUNE 500 COMPANIES – A proxy for the corporate base in each area, given that corporate clients are the prime market for premium seating – perhaps the biggest source of gameday revenue for a team. (source)
MINNEAPOLIS-ST PAUL – 20
LAS VEGAS – 4
SACRAMENTO- 0 (source)

If you assume that money is at the heart of this decision – and if it’s not, it would be a first for big-time sports – then the choice seems pretty straightforward.

by Darko Milicic

People of Minnesota! I have been meaning to tell you: I, Darko, have taken up kickboxing!

Please, hold on to all of your horses. I am sure that you are surprised to hear that I, Darko, am still making news. “I thought he retired to a life of luxury on the Serbian Riviera,” you are probably saying to yourself. First of all, Serbia has no coastline, you stupid Swedes. It is a landlocked country. I am not surprised you did not know that, given the manifold failures of the American educational system.

Oh yes! Darko is politically active, which is why I, Darko, am now a kickboxer! I viewed a charity auction for a kickboxing belt, but I said to myself, “Darko, how is it that you believe you are worthy to purchase a kickboxing belt? Surely you have more self-respect than this. Surely you cannot think that you should use your vast American riches to buy something as silly as the championship belt you have always deserved.” And then I ate some meatballs. Damn you Swedes, but I cannot stop eating your meatballs. They are bland but addictive. Just like some of the games that Darko likes to play on his brand-new smart phone! That’s right, Darko is living the high life with the phone on the World Wide Web! 2048, am I not correct? Yes? No?

As I chewed your tasty damnation, I, Darko thought to myself, “Darko, you are worth more than just your vast storehouse of American dollars. You have good in you. You can accomplish anything you put your mind to, yes? Then you should go out and win that kickboxing belt! And after that, you will punch hunger to the ground as well! Or kick hunger to the ground! Whatever the rules of kickboxing are!”

So I, Darko, went on to YouTube and watched some kickboxing videos, and I must tell you: this is an easy sport. All of the kickboxing people are the size of famous American basketball player Stephen Curry. They look like they have never seen a delicious meatball in their entire lives. I, Darko, do not wish to brag, but I am over seven feet tall and have several times rung the bell when challenging the strongman at the local carnival / supermarket. I can clean up these scrawny little non-Darkos with my eyes closed. I often took my basketball shots this way, and I see no reason that my kickboxing skills should be any different.

I, Darko, do not do things without being devoted to them 100%, at least until I get bored with them, like I did with basketball. Basketball, it is such a long game. One must sit on the bench for hours at a time, literally hours, thinking about meatballs and moustaches and how I can get my extra-special friends to like me. I have been calling Kevin Love every day to congratulate him on getting to play in Cleveland, which is a real American city, not like that Stockholm-by-the-river that you Minnesotans live in. He will not answer my calls. I suspect he is busy choosing from the luxurious accommodations available in Cleveland. Only sometimes is the river aflame! It is like a slice of heaven!

Now that the World Kickboxing Association has come calling, unlike some jerk so-called best friends, I am ready to commit myself to the sport of kickboxing. I, Darko, will not rest until the kickboxing world championship is mine for the taking. I have long been devoted to the humanitarian causes, and this is no different; there is no better way to spread goodness than by punching scrawny little people in the face.

So, Minnesotans, I ask you for your support. Please watch in awe as I, Darko, become the greatest kickboxing star of the world! And send me meatballs. You Swedes do not need those meatballs anyway. You are fattening up for winter, right? Yes? No? Ah, Darko, you scamp…

Minneapolis native Mukwelle Akale is winning international awards yet again – this time, in the Czech Republic. Akale was named Player of the Tournament at the Vaclav Jezek Tournament, and scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over Ukraine in the tournament final. It’s another award for the youngster’s shelf; he won the same Player of the Tournament award at the Copa del Atlantico earlier this year.

Akale, who signed with Spanish giants Villareal earlier in the year, has long been a part of the USA youth setup, as well as the Minnesota Thunder Academy that’s based in Woodbury. He started in the USA’s tournament-opening 3-1 win over Hungary, and came on as a substitute in the team’s 3-2 win over the Czech Republic. His winning goal, in the 47th minute of the title match, capped off yet another starring performance for the youngster.

Should you want to see him in action, you can also see him here, scoring for the Villareal U-18 team against the Southampton U-18 team.

Nor was Akale the only local on the field in the Czech Republic. Jackson Yueill, who has also featured for the U-18 team in the past, was again in action with the squad as well. He started the team’s opening game, but missed on out the game against the Czech Republic; no box score is yet available for the championship match, so there’s no telling whether he made the field for that one. Yueill, also a Minnesota Thunder Academy product, is still part of the Woodbury program.

On the women’s side, Woodbury native Kassey Kallman is one match away from her first championship ring in the pro ranks. Her NWSL team, FC Kansas City, beat the Portland Thorns 2-0 on Saturday. Kallman started and played all 90 minutes, taking three shots, one of which was on goal. KC will face the winner of Seattle next Sunday for the NWSL title. The 22-year-old Florida State grad has started 18 of Kansas City’s 24 games this year, and has plenty of international action to her credit as well, last featuring for the USA U-23 team at the Six Nations tournament in March.

Goalkeeper Cody Cropper has also been featuring for the U-23 team, on the men’s side. The Maple Grove native started at keeper in a 5-1 win over the Bahamas senior team in early August, the culmination of a five-day training camp for the team that’s likely to feature at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Cropper, who was born in February 1993, will just meet the age limit for the games, and is on track to start at keeper – should the United States qualify, as they failed to do in 2012.

Cropper remains at Southampton, where he started for the U-21 side on Friday in their second game in the U-21 Premier League, a 2-1 win over the West Ham U-21s.

Cropper’s sometime USA youth teammate, Woodbury’s Eric Miller, has been back in the picture for the Montreal Impact in Major League Soccer. Miller started the first seven games of the year for Montreal, and has been back in the lineup recently, starting three games in August as the Impact search for a combination that will keep them off the bottom of the league. His teammate Calum Mallace, a Henry Sibley HS alum, has also been featuring for the Impact; Mallace started last Saturday against New York and picked up an assist, though Montreal lost 4-2 to New York.

And finally: Prior Lake native Teal Bunbury has started almost every game this season for the New England Revolution, generally playing on the right side of midfield. He’s scored twice and has four assists, in his first season since leaving Sporting Kansas City, where he played for four years.

NOTE: This appeared at SoccerCentric.

Ireland are your 2014 Six Nations Champions, capping their campaign with a dramatic win against France to clinch the title on the final weekend. As is traditional, the final round included all six teams playing in back-to-back-to-back matches. Brit’s Pub in downtown Minneapolis showed all three, beginning at 7:30 in the morning.

My brother Dave is not a fan of rugby, but he does enjoy activities that consist of watching sports and drinking beer, so he agreed to come with me to watch the final day of matches. We skipped the early-morning beatdown that England put on Italy, but we did see Wales wax Scotland and Ireland’s victory.

Here now, I present the rules of rugby, as interpreted by Dave, who has watched about three rugby matches in his life.

  1. SMASH
  2. You can kick it but I am not sure why you would
  3. You get to keep the ball when you are tackled, except sometimes not?
  4. Wild dives across the pile are illegal and strongly encouraged
  5. Field goals are everyone’s favorite
  6. The ref awards penalties but nobody ever knows why

I’d like to thank Dave for stopping by.

I need to feel better about the USA losing twice to Canada at hockey. In order to do so, here’s an update of the Canada-USA Tale of the Tape, from a few years back.

Data source: The CIA World Factbook

USA CANADA Advantage
Population 316,438,601 34,568,211 USA
Quebec? No Yes USA
Per-capita GDP $51,700 $42,300 USA
Military Scary Gord L. and Milt J.
(Milt off Wed.)
USA
NHL Teams 23 7 USA
Fought for own independence? Yes Wussed out USA
Was actually a country during War of 1812 Yes Despite what they want
you to believe, no
USA
World status Last superpower “We’re real nice, eh” USA
Adjective to describe flag? Symbolic Floral USA
Currency? Supports world markets Has funny pictures USA
Complex Egotism Inferiority USA
French-fry based awesomeness Chili cheese fries Poutine USA
Thanksgiving in… November October USA

I do not feel better.

As I mentioned in my post about this week’s podcast, I’ve been getting in a lot of disagreements – notably with friend of the blog Michael Rand – about new Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner.

Turner is mostly famous for his years as the head coach in Washington, Oakland, and San Diego, but before he got into the head-coaching game, he was an offensive coordinator in Dallas, where he won two Super Bowl rings. He has since been been a coordinator in four places – San Diego, Miami, San Francisco, and last season in Cleveland.

Mike went through his various coaching stops the other day on his blog, and came to the conclusion that Turner had improved (or “maintained”) offenses at each of his stops, based mostly on the NFL ranks of Turner teams in offensive scoring.

Rather than argue about the relative merits of using offensive scoring or offensive yards as a measurement, I went over to footballoutsiders.com and looked at the Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) numbers for Turner’s teams. (DVOA is explained here, but if you don’t want to read the explanation, just note that it ranks teams based on how successful they are on a play-by-play basis.)

Without belaboring the details, the DVOA numbers more or less matched Rand’s findings; in general, Turner’s teams were either better, or not a lot worse, in his first year at any of his stops. (The one exception was his head-coaching gig in San Diego, where the Chargers went from second in the league to 14th in his first year.)

That said, one could equally look at things the other way, and examine how Turner’s teams did after he left. If he’s an exceptional offensive genius, then teams should have gotten markedly worse when he no longer darkened the doorstep. Here’s what I found:

  • Dallas: after Turner left, the Cowboys were third in offense, then first. No drop-off whatsoever.
  • Washington: the Redskins dropped to 25th and 26th when he left, after being 14th in his final year.
  • San Diego: the Chargers were 17th in his one year as offensive coordinator, then 15th and 12th after he departed.
  • Miami: the Dolphins went from 11th and 17th in his two years as OC to 31st and 18th in the two years following.
  • San Francisco: The 49ers were in the league’s bottom six offenses in the two years before and the two years after Turner, 23rd in his one year there.
  • San Diego again: As head coach, Turner’s team finished 24th in the league in offense in 2012, then third last year without him.
  • Cleveland: We don’t know yet, but Turner took a Browns team that was 25th and 27th in offense the year before him, and made them 26th last year.

So teams have gotten better, stayed the same, or gotten worse when he arrived… and have gotten better, stayed the same, or gotten worse when he left.

The conclusion I’ve come to is that Turner, as an offensive coordinator or a head coach, has really had very little to do with how good an offensive team he’s put on the field. In Dallas, he failed to screw up the Aikman-Smith-Irvin juggernaut, which continued on the same without him after he left. In San Diego, he did better with Doug Flutie than his predecessor did with Ryan Leaf, which is not much of a special accomplishment. He couldn’t do much in San Francisco with Alex Smith at the helm, just like the guys who came before and after couldn’t make it work with Smith, Tim Rattay, or Trent Dilfer; he didn’t mold Jason Campbell into a superstar in Cleveland, any more than others couldn’t make Colt McCoy or Brandon Weeden workable.

Ultimately, what will decide whether the Vikings have a good offense in 2014 rests far more on the arm of whoever takes the snaps, and far less on any purported two-decades-old genius. We can argue all we want about Turner, who’s been run out of multiple towns. But if Christian Ponder is at quarterback for the Purple, head coach Mike Zimmer can stitch Don Coryell, Bill Walsh, and Dutch Meyer together, Frankenstein-style, and it won’t matter, any more than Turner will.

Maybe this is the place we can all agree: Norv Turner isn’t bad or good. He’s just irrelevant.

UPDATE: Friend of the blog Brandon Broxey did some research, and put together this helpful chart, showing Turner’s year-on-year offensive improvement.

Norval

That is underwhelming, to say the least.