27 June 2012

10 years since Clint Mathis was left off the MetroStars lineup sheet

Clint Mathis, the face of the franchise, was left off the
lineup sheet. (Courtesy BigAppleSoccer.com)
Wednesday night was a very important milestone in MLS history. It was the 10th anniversary of my first MLS game as an employee! (The game was on June 26, 2002, but I felt a Wednesday was more appropriate to celebrate the anniversary.) That’s right, 10 years ago, on a Wednesday night in the Meadowlands, I was a communications intern for the MetroStars after my freshman year of college. I saw the MetroStars lose (surprise!); Pablo Mastroeni get a red card (big surprise!); and sat through an international game designed to draw additional fans (it didn’t). Thus began my career in sports.

Perhaps more memorably for everybody else, Wednesday night was the 10th anniversary of the infamous game in which Clint Mathis was supposed to make his return to MLS following the World Cup, but was denied entry as a second-half sub because (wait for it …) he had been omitted from the team’s lineup sheet. It was an extremely high-profile blunder that hurt the MetroStars’ chances to win the game and cost an assistant coach his job. And I could have stopped it.
Read on for the full story …

Rediscovering my own Friday-night lights

It took a true shot in the dark, but I discovered a long-lost gem of a broadcast last night, hearkening back to the Friday-night lights of my past.

I’ve spent a lot of time this month sending out feelers about broadcasting jobs in college sports for 2012-13. I have not, however, gotten a lot of responses. But I continue to work on my online demo page to try and impress potential employers.

My demo page had clips from a number of different sports, but there was no football. That’s a gaping hole when I want to be considered for college football broadcasts this year. I know football and do have experience calling it, but the only recordings I had were from my first year calling high school games, back in 2006, and they had a pretty significant hum from internet-only recordings.

I knew the best football game I’ve called came on a random Friday night in 2008, during my first year working for the Dynamo, when I was called to fill in on the game of the week for Houston’s ESPN affiliate at the time, 97.5 FM. I had always felt like that broadcast gave a much stronger representation of my football skills. Unfortunately, I hadn’t been able to get a recording of the game at the time and just assumed it didn’t exist.

So late last night, unable to sleep with a heightened sense of urgency to improve my demo page with some football, I went back and listened to a couple of those old games from 2006. I really didn’t feel good about sharing those as examples of my “best work,” so I dug a little deeper. The Texas Sports Radio Network had given me my first chances to broadcast high school football, and TSRN archives its games. I figured there was no way anything went that far back, especially because the ‘archive’ button on the website only took me to Houston high-school broadcasts from 2011-12.

This is where I got lucky. Because “/2011-12/” was included as part of the URL, I surmised that other years, though not linked anywhere on the site, might be available. So I replaced the 2011-12 with 2008-09, clicked ‘Football,’ and was presented with a list of games from 2008. I still worried that my broadcast, having been on real radio rather than simply an internet broadcast, would not be listed, but it was there!

Since each game had a link, presumably to a stream of the broadcast, I thought I had solved the problem. But the detective work wasn’t done. Clicking on the link brought me to an error page telling me the file did not exist. That stumped me for a bit, but I noted the URL that was not coming up and went back to compare it against the URLs from more recent archives that were still available. There were obvious differences, so I substituted the correct years and filename in the file path. After trying several different variations without success – I was getting tired of being told the file did not exist – I finally got a response, and an audio file started loading!

The file covered about eight hours, but luckily the main focus of it was a three-hour broadcast of the game between Dayton and C.E. King, with me on the play-by-play. What a relief! Listening to the game brought back some great memories of a crazy night at Crenshaw Memorial Stadium (pictured above) on the technical side and an impressive night on the football side. The game included Dayton quarterback Cody Green, who might be the starter at Tulsa this fall, and current UH hurdler Cameron LaCour, the brother of Nebraska track star Karyn LaCour, whom I profiled when I worked in Humble.

The trip down memory lane means I finally have some football clips I can send to potential employers to show them I can handle it, even if it is from four years ago.The full game is still available (be patient and allow the audio file to load, then drag ahead to the game action), and here’s the 14-minute clip on my demo page.

Some late-night industry and a little bit of luck, and maybe somebody will take a chance on me calling football games after all!

12 June 2012

I want solutions, not problems!

I once had a great boss who insisted that if any of us brought up a problem, we should be prepared to suggest a solution at the same time. Sounds obvious, but it was great advice that I still try to use as much as possible.

So when it comes to the impact of Major League Soccer on the development of young players in the United States - about which Washington Post writer Paul Tenorio wrote a very interesting piece that ran today - I want to try to be a small part of the solution. It’s an extremely important topic for both MLS and American soccer, and Tenorio did a good job of efficiently discussing the multiple aspects of a very complex issue.

As far as possible solutions, Tenorio primarily mentions partnerships with minor-league clubs and an increased investment in the MLS Reserve League. Of the two, I would favor the latter, where players will remain more connected to the MLS club and will play, generally speaking, on better fields. MLS teams currently play 10-game Reserve League schedules, but several considerations - mostly financial, as I understand it - prevent the league from running a full 34-game Reserve League, in which each MLS fixture is mirrored at the lower level. Given the travel required and the lack of any tangible revenue from a reserve game in most markets, the financials will continue to make it a tough sell.

It is a third option that most intrigues me, however, one raised by MLSsoccer.com’s Jonah Freedman in this April column. Read on for more ...

11 June 2012

Euro 2012 all-Yardley team, 8 games in

The Ukrainian old guard, Shevchenko and Voronin, prepare to celebrate.
Like many of you, I’ve spent most of the last four days watching Euro 2012, much to the bewilderment of those around me. It’s been a highly entertaining tournament so far, and in almost every game, a player or two stood out to me, often guys I had hardly heard of before. So now that each team has played one game in the tournament, I’m naming a preliminary all-Yardley team. Some are household names, but I tried to go with guys who surprised me, either with a positive performance or a different role. Keep an eye on them as you watch the next round of games.

06 June 2012

USOC lineups, Round 4

My last post – about the strength of MLS lineups in Round 3 of this year’s Open Cup – got a very good response, so I thought I’d revisit it after Round 4.

The benchmark of success from Round 3 was a group of players – starters AND substitutes used – which had played at least 42 percent of the team’s MLS minutes on the season. Teams at or higher than 42 percent had a .727 advancement percentage, while teams below that mark were 0-for-5.

TM% MLS Mins.Result
There were four games between MLS and non-MLS teams this round, and we saw much stronger MLS lineups not only in these games, but throughout the round. On Tuesday, every MLS team exceeded the 42 percent mark, and those teams went 3-for-4 for a .750 advancement percentage, which feels like it should be relatively normal for such games.

Two of the teams cut it particularly close, with Chivas USA starting a lineup at exactly 42 percent (escalating to 52.3 with substitutes) and San Jose’s starters accounting for only 40.7 percent (60.1 percent with subs). Interestingly, both teams left their wins exceedingly late, winning on goals from Juan Pablo Angel in the 90th minute and Steven Lenhart in the 85th minute.

New York started the strongest lineup of the four teams (63.7 percent) but was still the only MLS side to lose, continuing the trend (can we call it a trend after only 12 games?) that numerical strength after that 42-percent threshold seems to have minimal impact on the result. The fact that the Red Bulls used only extra-time subs, one of whom has not played an MLS minute this year, may not have helped. Nor, of course, did a missed hand-ball call.

The other team to consider was the Seattle Sounders, who started a lineup at 53.4 percent, with the number rising to 63.5 after subs (all of whom were inserted after the game had been decided).

In the two all-MLS games, Philadelphia (59.8% starters, 62.5% total) edged D.C. United (57.5% starters, 66.5% total) in extra time, and Kansas City (70.5% starters, 71.1% total) took down Colorado (56.7% starters, 59.9% total). Not a whole lot to draw from there, especially with the impact injuries and absences had on lineup selection, but still a slight edge for the ‘stronger’ lineups.

Once again, I’m not trying to draw any major conclusions – I haven’t looked (and probably won’t look) at enough data for that – but it is interesting that, above that threshold of MLS minutes, the advancement percentage stayed consistent for a second consecutive round. We’ll get three more MLS vs. non-MLS games in the quarterfinals, so it’s worth keeping an eye on. Percentage of MLS minutes certainly seems to be a better predictor of results than home-field advantage, which has produced an exact 12-12 split in Rounds 3 and 4, or regular-season record.