Monday, February 24, 2014

MLS Fantasy prizes for the 2014 season do not get any better than this!

The 2014 Major League Soccer season starts in less than two weeks (March 8th) so if you haven't yet registered a team for this year's new-and-improved version of MLS Fantasy Soccer Manager, it's about time you get that going.

If you have registered a team and joined my private league I have some great news for you!

(Note: If you want to join click this link or enter the code 2-30 on the "Leagues" page)

After agreeing to terms with two incredible sponsors from the New York City area, I am able to confirm the prizes I'll be giving away for the upcoming 2014 FMLS season. My two sponsors are Upper 90 Soccer and Daniel Nyari.
Playmakers hoody by Daniel Nyari

I have some incredible prizes to offer you so let's get to it!

All players in my league will be entitled to a special promo code good for 10% all online purchases from Upper 90 soccer - the No.1 soccer store in New York City. You can find this code in the "Forum" section when you join the league.

This code is valid through May 31, 2014. Upon entering their site you will also have the option to register an email address. Do that and you'll receive another promo code valid for $10 off that can be used in combination with one another. Also, there's free shipping for any orders over $90.

Upper 90 Soccer will also be giving away some very generous prizes for the Top 3 finishers overall.

Here's how the league will work --> Head-to-Head format with the regular season winner (best record and overall points at the end of Round 29) taking home any one item from the online store of New York based artist/illustrator Daniel Nyari.

There will be a 16-team playoff from Rounds 30 to 33. The Top 3 finishers at the end of it all will receive the following:

1st Place - Adidas 2014 World Cup Brazuca match ball and a $100 gift card to Upper 90 Soccer

2nd Place - Adidas 2014 Major League Soccer match ball and a $50 gift card to Upper 90 Soccer

3rd Place - Adidas 2013 Major League Soccer match ball and any short-sleeve jersey of your choice from the Upper 90 store

I am very honored to have these two sponsors on board and I hope you can appreciate the length we all went to in order to be able to offer this to you for the 2014 season.

Neither of my sponsors are receiving huge benefits from doing this so please show them some love. If you're on Twitter please give Upper 90 Soccer and Daniel Nyari a follow. They have both been very supportive of my efforts to make this the No.1 private fantasy league in all of MLS and I think that with the prizes being offered we definitely accomplished that.

Leave a note in the comments below or send them a brief message to thank them on Twitter. Best of luck this year everyone. Cheers!
Upper 90 Soccer store located at 697 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10025 (646) 863-3105
Note: All winners will need to provide proof of residence in order to be eligible to receive prizes. Players who create more than one team will be removed from the game and will not be eligible to receive prizes.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The MLS SuperDraft may be small for the fans, but it's huge for the media

If you've never attended a MLS SuperDraft in the past you're missing out on a lot. There will always be people who criticize or doubt the success of the SuperDraft from a player standpoint, but when it comes to media-related events, it doesn't get much bigger than this.

Major League Soccer has changed the format of the draft several times over the years, but they finally have the right system in place to keep it the same each year going forward.

The draft day format goes something like this:

10am: Media credentials
11am: Fans start trickling in (DC, PHI and NY)
12pm: Draft class enters followed by some brief announcements
12:15pm: Speech from MLS Commissioner Don Garber and then the draft begins
  • Two rounds: 19 picks for each = 38 total selections
4pm: Draft is over. Article time for media personal. Everyone else is out the door.

While the draft may not mean much to the "average" fan, the media eats it up. This year, after a player was selected they made their way down a catwalk and answered a couple questions from Real Salt Lake broadcaster Brian Dunseth in front of the entire audience - roughly 2,000 people. Then they walked over to a brand new 2014 Adidas Brazuca match ball and signed their John Hancock on it before being greeted by team personnel.

After they said their hellos they walked past the media area and into a side room for a quick photo opp before interviews. The players posed with a Bazuca alone, then with the coaches (some with jerseys) and then the fun began.

Players and coaches are interviewed separately. Were the questions draft related? For the players - yes, mostly. For the coaches - Eh, not so much.

Most of the players are nervous and they don't really know what to say so most of the really good stuff comes from the coaches. And that's exactly what makes it so special.

Think about it. Where else can you get to do scrums and one-on-ones with Coaches and General Managers from every team? Not only that, after Round 1 commences, Don Garber heads back to the media room and to do a presser of his own.

Questions were thrown at Garber regarding Camilo, TV deals, Edu and much, much more. The @thesoccerdon was out-spoken as always. He wasn't happy about the Camilo situation or the Edu rumors, but he gave the media a chance to grill him for a solid 20-30 minutes. What more could one ask for?

This might seem like the norm for people who've been in the business, but for a first-timer like myself, it couldn't have been a more fulfilling experience.

Is Philadelphia the cleanest city? No. But the people within Major League Soccer and from the different media outlets around the nation made this event something very special. Coaches, GM's. players and MLS front office members ready and willing to drop knowledge on everything you ask of them. Doesn't get much better than that.

The fans were great as well. D.C. United came in first, followed by Philadelphia and New York. Loud chants between the Philadelphia and New York supporters - separated by a mere two feet - gave the room a chilling, invigorating vibe before the draft even started.

Parents brought their kids and friends and family showed up to support the draftees in attendance. It was an amazing turnout filled with people of all ages and an incredible atmosphere for everyone who took part.

For media members, there were stories flying around all over the place. NY Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke addressed the Xavi rumors, Bruce Arena told us why LA needed another center back, John Hackworth talked in detail about Maurice Edu and Don Garber said a lot. A LOT.

Plus coaches and general managers were wheeling and dealing:
  • DC United traded No.1 to Philadelphia for No.2 and allocation money
  • FC Dallas traded No.5 to Montreal for No.10, allocation money and an int'l roster slot
  • Philadelphia traded No.6 overall to Dallas for No.10 and allocation money
  • Philadelphia traded No.10 overall to Toronto for No.15 and allocation money
  • New England traded No.11 to Colorado for No.12 and No.19
  • Montreal traded No.29 overall to DC for int'l roster slot
So while the draft may not be the best or most efficient way to bring talent into this league, the MLS SuperDraft will be around for a very long time.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Relive the 2014 FIFA World Cup Draw Round-by-Round

Relive the 2014 FIFA World Cup Draw Round-by-Round:

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Can Major League Soccer save ESPN and the negative light it shines on athletes in America?

Turn on ESPN and what do you see? Murder. DUI's. Steroids. Crime. The list goes on and on. It's a growing problem in several major American sports and the media is having a "field day" with it.

While the National Football League, Major League Baseball, NCAA Football and others continue to make headlines for the wrong reasons, Major League Soccer is making headlines for the right reasons.

Earlier this season LA Galaxy's Robbie Rogers became the first openly gay male athlete to play in a major professional sports league in America. Leading up to the announcement that he would join LA this season, Rogers' story became increasingly popular throughout the mainstream media and a key focal point of change and growth in American professional sports.

Rogers made his first appearance with the LA Galaxy in the 77th minute on ESPN's MLS Game of the Week on Saturday, May 26; a 4-0 win over the Seattle Sounders. In front of a packed house, Rogers was gifted one of the loudest, uplifting reactions from MLS fans all season.

Flash forward a couple weeks later and it's almost as if nothing ever happened. What might possibly be the biggest story in Major League Soccer this season went from something controversial, problematic and revolutionary all at the same time to almost a non-issue.

If you compare Rogers' story to what is going on with Johnny Manziel right now, which is more inspiring, motivational, positive? Easy. So why does the mainstream media seem to focus so much on negativity? Instead of highlighting and praising athletes for the positive role they're portraying, the media seems to look for ways to accentuate their mishaps and make them the subject of even more controversy. Sometimes you can even catch the analysts on TV giving the player some form of fatherly advice.

A lot of people, including myself, think that soccer in America has not been given the respect it deserves from the mainstream media. Rarely do you see something highlighted on television or in the newspaper with regards to soccer. It's something that I think is going to change eventually, but when?

U.S. soccer does not generate nearly anything close to what the NFL or MLB does with regards to revenue, but from a media standpoint what are we teaching our youth? We shine a light on players in other sports who continue to let us down, while players in Major League Soccer are doing things lift others up. News has never been more accessible than it is today through social media, and according to this article (written 4/8/13) 37% of teenagers in the U.S. have their own smartphone. I'm sure that number has only gone up since then.

Aaron Hernandez (NFL), Alex Rodriguez (MLB), Ryan Braun (MLB), Johnny Manziel (NCAA), Tiger Woods (PGA) and even Kobe Bryant (NBA) have become global icons for their respective sports. All of these athletes have worked very hard to get where they are/were in their careers, but at some point or another have let us all down. When was the last time you could say that about a U.S. Soccer player?

Here are some of the latest search results from Google with regards to the six athletes named above. I've also included U.S. Men's National team player and LA Galaxy forward, Landon Donovan.

Google - Estimated number of results (7/31/13)

Alex Rodriguez - 157,000,000
Aaron Hernandez - 105,000,000
Tiger Woods - 68,400,000
Ryan Braun - 68,000,000
Kobe Bryant - 61,100,000
Johnny Manziel - 35,700,000
Landon Donovan - 19,100,000

You could argue that the difference between Alex Rodriguez and Landon Donovan (approximately 137,900,000 results) is so large mainly because Rodriguez is under investigation for steroid use. We all know that he makes more money than Donovan and that he's a bigger star among the mainstream media, but why do people insist on giving a bad seed more and more publicity?

Rodriguez is 38 years old and he hasn't done anything for the United States of America. He really hasn't done all that much for Major League Baseball either. If anything, he's ruining the entire sport and its reputation. Didn't the U.S. Men's National team just win the 2013 Gold Cup? Shine some light on that.

ESPN has seen a decline in ratings this year and it serves them right. Some people are even having a little fun mocking it (Dave Letterman's Top 10 lowest rated shows on ESPN). Breaking news is great, but when you go on and on about the same subject it gets old. If soccer is the most popular sport in the world, why not put it on TV more often?

This brings us to some good news! ESPN FC, ESPN's new soccer show that will air Sunday through Friday at 530pm ET starting August 11. What this show does ratings wise could be very beneficial for the growth of soccer in America. Details regarding the hosts and primary focus of the show have not yet been released, but we'll find out soon enough.

ESPN's show will not be the only new soccer show set to air in August. Fox Sports 1 will introduce FOX Soccer Daily on August 19. This show is also 30 minutes long (starts at 4pm ET) and will be recorded from a studio in Los Angeles. For more details on the show, click here.

As a kid, I grew up idolizing all athletes. I was in awe of them. But now, because of their actions and the way they're portrayed on TV and in the mainstream media, I've become more cautious. Anybody can be a good athlete, maybe even a phenomenal one if they work hard enough, but character is what earns you respect in my opinion, and until you have that...you're nothing.

Here's hoping that ESPN FC kills it! In a good way.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Twitter is taking over the sports industry...are you following?


Your alarm clock goes off and it begins. And by it, I mean Twitter.

For most of the working population, you likely do one of three things when you wake up in the morning;

1) Get a drink
2) Go to the bathroom
3) Check your phone/computer

This used to be the order in which I started my day...not anymore. No. 3 has quickly become my new No. 1, and before I knew it, my urge to use the bathroom or take a swig of OJ had not only dropped in the pecking order, it had been prolonged an extra 15-30 minutes. And it's all because of Twitter.

When I started working as a freelance editor for Major League Soccer in 2011, I spent roughly 6-8 hours/day on Facebook and 15-20 minutes/day on Twitter. Flash forward 18 months later and you'll catch me on Twitter 6-8 hours/day (if not more) and Facebook 15-20 minutes/day.

Before we jump into the effect that Twitter is having throughout the soccer community, here are some general stats regarding the social media giant (via statisticbrain.com).

Total number of active registered Twitter users 554,750,000
Number of new Twitter users signing up everyday 135,000
Number of unique Twitter site visitors every month 190 million
Average number of tweets per day 58 million
Number of Twitter search engine queries every day 2.1 billion
Percent of Twitter users who use their phone to tweet 43 %
Percent of tweets that come from third party applicants 60%
Number of people that are employed by Twitter 2,500
Number of active Twitter users every month 115 million
Percent of Twitters who don’t tweet but watch other people tweet 40%
Number of days it takes for 1 billion tweets 5 days
Number of tweets that happen every second 9,100

As a writer/editor looking grow my career in the industry, Twitter is the ultimate resource. It's a great way to get the latest news from around the world and grow your image at the same time. Most of my friends back in Port Richey, Florida couldn't care less about Twitter, but my friends and coworkers living in New York City can't live without it.

Does Twitter thrive in metropolitan areas? Yes, but that shouldn't be the case. Whether you use Twitter to voice your opinion or check your local news, it is the most efficient way to obtain information, especially with regards to sports.

Sports Illustrated senior editor, Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl), is one of the most accomplished writers for the sport of soccer in America. He currently has 320,000+ followers on Twitter and that number continues to grow every day. Each tweet he sends out is read by tens of thousands of people.

Wahl tweets mostly about the U.S. Men's National team and Major League Soccer which makes him one of the most influential media icons in North America with regards to soccer.

A simple tweet like...
...got 367 retweets and 90 favorites.

Stephen Goff (@SoccerInsider) is another key figure relaying soccer news in America. He's a reporter for the Washington Post, covering mostly D.C. United of MLS and the U.S. Men's National team. Goff is approaching 100,000 followers.
Twitter has quickly become the most efficient way to communicate with people, companies, celebrities, etc. I can go months without texting my coworkers, but you'll likely see the majority of us communicating through Twitter on a daily basis.

It's not easy gaining followers, but if you work hard it, you'll get there. Grant Wahl didn't get to where he is because he tweets pictures of his dog. Almost everything he tweets is relevant and work related.

What you tweet and how you tweet it ultimately paves the way for success or failure amongst your peers. It's the most important form of self-promotion we have and it's free. Most people do it as a way to promote their work, brand, etc., and if done the right way, it can greatly increase your chances of landing a better job down the road.

(Note: I'm not killing it by any means when it comes to followers. Hopefully I can make a mid-season push and get to 1,000 by the end of the year. We'll see.)

Here are the most popular soccer-related accounts in the Twitterverse;
  • No. 16 Overall: Cristiano Ronaldo (@Cristiano) - 19,832,900 followers
  • No. 21 Overall: Kaka (@Kaka) - 16,121,900 followers
  • No. 57 Overall: FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) - 9,501,145 followers
  • No. 76 Overall: Real Madrid (@realmadrid) - 8,237,678 followers
Even more amazing is this fake Lionel Messi account (@LeoMessi_Barca) that has 715,094 followers.

Major League Soccer and each individual team will never catch a team like Barcelona, but that doesn't mean they aren't making progress. Here are the latest Twitter numbers for MLS (as of July 19, 2013):

Major League Soccer (@MLS) – 208,900 followers
  1. LA Galaxy (@LAGalaxy) – 142,659
  2. New York Red Bulls (@NewYorkRedBulls) – 76,560
  3. Seattle Sounders (@SoundersFC) – 73,530
  4. Sporting KC (@SportingKC) – 56,067
  5. D.C. United (@dcunited) – 52,473
  6. Houston Dynamo (@HoustonDynamo) – 51,312
  7. Toronto FC (@torontofc) – 47,870
  8. Vancouver Whitecaps (@WhitecapsFC) – 46,849
  9. Portland Timbers (@TimbersFC) – 46,219
  10. Chicago Fire (@ChicagoFire) – 43,419
  11. Chivas USA (@cdchivasusa) – 42,193
  12. Philadelphia Union (@PhilaUnion) – 41,543
  13. Montreal Impact (@impactmontreal) – 37,856
  14. Columbus Crew (@ColumbusCrew) – 33,242
  15. San Jose Earthquakes (@SJEarthquakes) – 28,962
  16. FC Dallas (@FCDallas) – 28,753
  17. New England Revolution (@NERevolution) – 28,665
  18. Real Salt Lake (@RealSaltLake) – 27,856
  19. Colorado Rapids (@ColoradoRapids) – 21,757
*** All MLS teams combined – 927,800+ followers ***

Sunday, May 19, 2013

New York Red Bulls 1, LA Galaxy 0: Why Carlo Cudicini shouldn't be blamed for Tim Cahill's game-winning goal


It's been a while since I last posted on here, but today's game (New York Red Bulls vs LA Galaxy) tested my patience. And since Twitter only lets me vent in 140 characters or less, here I am.

I don't have a favorite MLS team. I root for action-packed games and creative play from both sides, but my main focus is on fantasy soccer. I want certain players to do well so today I needed a LA Galaxy clean sheet.

Tim Cahill's game-winner in the 92nd minute is the main reason I'm a little heated right now, and in my opinion, Carlo Cudicini is not the only person responsible. Let me tell you who is and why.

Here's the breakdown on the game-winning goal...

The picture above was taken three seconds before Juninho crosses the ball into the box (via set-piece) in the 91st minute. After the ball is kicked, it's in the air for just under two seconds before Tim Cahill heads home the game-winner, leaving me, along with several Galaxy players stunned.

So, what's wrong with this picture?

First let's look at the matchups and see who is marking who: Omar Gonzalez/Thierry Henry, Sean Franklin/Jamison Olave, Todd Dunivant/Markus Holgersson and AJ DeLaGarza/Tim Cahill. The rest of the players pictured for LA; Greg Cochrane (hiding behind Omar), Gyasi Zardes and Rafael Garcia are marking nobody.

Dax McCarty and Lloyd Sam are completely unmarked. Why? Did LA fail to communicate with each other properly on the most important set-piece of the game? The answer is simple. Yes.

Is this Omar's fault? Is he the leader of the team when it comes to defending set-pieces? How can he see two guys completely unmarked and not be yelling at someone to get on them? Let's take a closer look.

Which player is responsible for the goal? (No. 1 = most reliable)

1. Gyasi Zardes - There are a lot of things that upset me with the way some players act on the field and silly fouls are very high on that list. I don't have the best access to picture quality at the moment so bear with me. Zardes fouls Roy Miller at the bottom of the screen right around the 90:30 mark.

Why?

Miller is dribbling towards the sideline with two options basically - he can pass to Jonny Steele or try to beat Zardes, Franklin and others off the dribble. The foul allows Juninho (a set-piece magician) to set up one final opportunity in the closing minutes of a 0-0 game. To me, this alone makes Zardes the No. 1 reason why the Galaxy lost today. If there's no foul, there's no set-piece. If there's no set-piece, there's no goal. It's not rocket science.

Even though Zardes commits the initial foul he can still make up for it by defending properly, but Zardes wastes time, precious time (pictured below). He takes too long to get back and mark up. Dunivant already has Holgersson, which means Zardes should move to either Olave or Cahill.

If Zardes is the second-tallest player on the field for the Galaxy at 6'2" behind Omar Gonzalez (6'5"), why isn't he marking someone who's a scoring threat in the air? Not only is he not marking a tall target, he pretty much marks no one at all. He basically just tracks back into space once the ball is kicked.

And why is AJ DeLaGarza (5'9") marking one of the best aerial players (Cahill) in the entire league? If Gonzalez has Henry, Dunivant has Holgersson and Franklin has Olave, Zardes' needs to be on Cahill, right?

2. Greg Cochrane - After the foul Cochrane immediately marks up on Dax McCarty, which is exactly what he should do. But, when McCarty moves behind the Gonzalez/Henry matchup, Cochrane gets lost and doesn't respond immediately. Then, instead of moving in front of Omar to get back to his original position, he runs behind him. This move is what keeps Tim Cahill in an onside position.

Since Cochrane keeps Cahill onside, he's the second player responsible for today's debacle in my opinion.

3. Carlo Cudicini - Bruce Arena was quoted as saying that the ball served up by Juninho was 90 percent keepers ball, and I agree to some extent. You can put a lot of blame on Cudicini for not coming out and punching the ball away, but in all honesty, he has roughly 1.5 seconds to make that decision from when Juninho strikes the ball. That's not a whole lot of time.

Cudicini struggled judging the flight path of the ball due to the angle of the kick and swerve it carried through the air. Juninho put just enough pace on the ball, causing Cudicini to second guess coming out. If you take a screenshot of the ball when it hits Cahill's head, there's no question it's Cudicini's ball to get rid of. But, it's much more complicated than that. If this were a corner kick, I'd be all over Cudicini, but the positioning of this free kick makes the keepers' job a lot harder than it looks.

4. Bruce Arena - It's tough putting the blame solely on coaches in soccer because they can only do so much. In this case, Arena prepared the marking matchups for set-piece situations so I have to find him at fault to some extent. Arena (pictured above, lower left) is standing calm and collected (with his arms crossed) while the second-tallest player on his team tries to delay time by standing in front of Juninho; who is simply just setting up the ball for one final kick. Juninho isn't trying to rush the kick, so why isn't Arena yelling at Zardes to get back and mark up. Arena is a legend, but not every player is as tactically gifted as a Robbie Keane or a Landon Donovan. Zardes is 21 years old and has played just 124 minutes in a Galaxy uniform this year. He's inexperienced and needs direction. If I'm Bruce Arena at the time of this picture, I'm screaming at the top of my lungs for him to get back and mark up.

The real heroes for New York aren't just Juninho and Cahill. Watch the goal again and notice how Henry avoids rushing in for the ball entirely, holding Gonzalez off long enough to prevent him from tracking back to clear the ball. If Henry runs in and tries to head the ball, he either disrupts Cahill's run or allows Gonzalez just enough time to get back and make a clearance with his head. It's the little things like this that made the Red Bulls the smarter team on this particular set-piece. This is what teams need to do to win championships. It's kind of like saying, "in your face" but without words, just movement. Henry, I applaud you on this one.

FYI: I was sitting 10 rows behind Juninho when he took the kick so I saw it all unfold right in front of me.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

2012 MLS All-Star MVP should've been...

As soon as ESPN cut back after the break to show the MVP presentation at the 2012 MLS All-Star game, I expected to see Vancouver Whitecaps defender Jay DeMerit. Unfortunately he wasn't there, but instead stood a front-runner for this years' MLS Comeback Player of the Year award, Chris Pontius.

Surprised? Yes. Shocked? Yes again. Sure Pontius got the equalizer and helped play a bit of a role in the game-winner, but anybody watching that game knew who the real MVP was. Even if I was picking the second best, or even the third best player on the pitch it wouldn't have been Pontius - no offense Chris.

DeMerit made numerous tackles, clearances and blocks, while his decision making was spot on as well - that of a former and (should be) present U.S. Men's National team player.

The team was playing superb in the first half, but the injury to Aurelien Collin (soon to be official on MLSSoccer.com) really hurt the MLS back line. Not necessarily in terms of production. More so it threw off their rhythm, ultimately leading to Chelsea's first goal of the night.

It was a joy to see the all the players clicking at such a high level. Their pace was extraordinary and their passing was spot-on. Sure Chelsea isn't in peak condition like MLS players are, but for the majority of the first half - other than a few spurts - they were seriously outplayed.

I could go on and on about how well the MLS players performed in the first half, but I won't because that's not really what this post is about.

Back to the MVP discussion - Beckham second and De Rosario and Beitashour in a tie for third.

For those of you that don't already know, David Beckham is an amazing player and MLS is extremely benefiting from him being here. Honestly, the guy deserves anything he wants. No other player I have EVER watched has had the ability to play the long ball more accurately than David Beckham has. What you witnessed last night was normal, everyday stuff from him.

Now let's discuss DeRo and Beitashour to wrap this up. DeRo is a great all around player. He's been doing it for years. If you have been watching the game you really don't need for me to go on. Steven Beitashour on the other hand has been that diamond in the rough coaches are trying to find. I haven't looked at the micoach numbers yet, but I'm sure they read this - Beitashour ran the most sprints, reached the highest speed and tallied the highest total distance covered by any player on the field - or at least for any MLS player.

No matter who the MVP was we have to appreciate the effort and skill put forth by all of the MLS players last night. I'm kicking myself for not going now.

Monday, June 18, 2012

2012 MLS Salaries - Top 20 players making $50k or less

After the MLS Players Union released salary information for the 2012 MLS Season, it was clear that several players were both out-performing and under-performing based on the contracts they had previously signed. This article will focus primarily on the steals of the 2012 MLS season.

It shouldn't take much for a player to out perform a $50k contract, but they're quite a few players that deserve much more. Some of these players are on loan and their former clubs could be paying some of their salary, but for MLS teams, these guys are definitely worth the little they're paying them.

Initially, I was going to release my top ten steals, but after going through the names again and again I realized that the list had to be expanded. Here are my top twenty steals of the 2012 MLS season so far.

1. Sebastian Grazzini - Chicago Fire ($50,400)
Unbelievable production for Chicago in the central (midfield) attacking role. A joy to watch on the ball in open play and an above average set-piece specialist. Chicago will need to consider picking up his option if they have any plans of making a playoff run. Oduro has proven to be the shaky finisher he was back in Houston so others will need to produce if Chicago plan on climbing back up the Eastern Conference standings.

2. Steven Beitashour - San Jose Earthquakes ($44,100)
An outside back who some consider USMNT potential, Beitashour has made a name for himself this year with his ability to get forward and cross in superior balls to Wondo, Gordon and Lenhart. I expect him to play a large role in San Jose's success or demise as the season draws to an end.

3. Rafael Baca - San Jose Earthquakes ($44,100)
At one time this midfielder was praised for his ability to win the second ball and create in the attacking half. For some reason head coach Frank Yallop doesn't seem prone to keeping him in more than 70 minutes a game. Not sure if Baca will rebound from his sub-par performances as of late, but the Earthquakes will need him to be more attack down the road.

4. Justin Morrow - San Jose Earthquakes ($44,1000
Strong defender who can play outside and in the middle. He has the ability to get forward and contribute in the attacking half, but he's more of a presence in the box than a crosser. We'll see what he can do going forward, as San Jose will need him to be above average down the final stretch.

5. Austin Berry - Chicago Fire ($44,000)
Beastly player in the back and a quick learner based on his production thus far. Rookies have been thrown into action much more frequently this season and Berry has stepped up. Arne Friedrich should return shortly from a hamstring injury, but Berry should continue to be used as a starter until he rebounds to full strength. Like Hedges, Berry adds another dimension at the attacking end with regards to set-pieces.

6. Rauwshan McKenzie - Chivas USA ($44,000)
Chivas has been up and down this season, but their defense has made some good improvements. Rauwshan is now teamed up with former Philadelphia Union starter, Danny Califf, who left Philly due to differences with ex-coach Peter Nowak. Losing Heath Pearce definitely hurts them because McKenzie still has a bit to learn. He too is a threat on corners and set-pieces.

7. Bernardo Anor - Columbus Crew ($44,100)
Columbus are set with Meram and Renteria up top so Anor must battle Gaven and others for playing time out wide. The Crew already have several starters out due to injuries, but Anor is a speed demon who can remain healthy all season. As soon as the next person goes down, look for Anor to come in and produce when called upon.

8. Tony Cascio - Colorado Rapids ($44,000)
A rookie no more, Cascio has become a focal point in Colorado's attack. Not sure how much playing time he'll get once Casey and Cummings are back at full strength, but he adds attacking depth that should prove helpful due to the long and strenuous season.

9. Martin Rivero - Colorado Rapids ($50,004)
Rivero is probably Colorado's best player in my opinion. Larentowicz and Moor are solid players, but Rivero adds creativity and vision in the attacking third. He's great on set-pieces and could be the deciding factor if Colorado plan to rebound from their sub-par start.

10. Matt Hedges - FC Dallas ($44,000)
When Ugo Ihemulu missed time with a concussion, Hedges stepped right in a made an immediate impact. He's gotten on the scoring sheet in very little time and it looks like Dallas made the right move grabbing him in the draft. Possibly a little overrated coming out of college, but I like the way he's come in and made a name for himself in very little time.

11. George John - FC Dallas ($47,250)
When I saw what John was being paid for his services this season I as shocked. To own a player for this cheap and possibly sell him to an EPL team in the future, well, let's just say the profit could be sizable. John has proven to be a top 5 back in MLS, but Dallas have not been playing up to their potential. Their defense seems strong on paper, but right now something is terribly wrong the lone-star state.

12. Nick DeLeon - DC United ($44,000)
Aside from Ryan Meara, DeLeon is the hottest rookie in the league. He's cooled down a bit after a hamstring injury sidelined him for multiple weeks. There's no question the rigorous schedule affected his rebound time. Now that;s he back to full strength look for him to continue to grow and excel as an outside attacking threat.

13. Nelson Rivas - Montreal Impact ($50,000)
A solid addition to a struggling expansion squad, Rivas has come in and held his own. He's a monster in the back and has pretty good vision as well. With Rivas and Ferrari minding the central defense position, Montreal looks to have a good chance of reaching the playoffs in their first year. Look for Rivas to continue to help shut down the oppositions' forwards if Montreal want to be successful.

14. Lee Nguyen - New England Revolution ($44,000)
This quick and crafty midfielder has brought new life to a Revolution team that seemed destined for the bottom of the table yet again. He's added a new dimension with his speed on the ball and his vision to find a cutting teammate. New England look like they'll be in contention for a finally playoff spot when that time comes.

15. Brandon Barklage - New York Red Bulls ($44,000)
Came in and instantly made an impact for a New York team that lost several starters. Helped turn one of the worst defenses in the league, into one of the best. Hasn't played much since entering the league a few years ago, but was a key contributor in the Red Bulls' turnaround this season.

16. Connor Lade - New York Red Bulls ($33,750)
Along with Barklage, Lade came in to a rough situation. New York was struggling with both on and off the field issues. Connor took the initiative and showed all short fellas that you don't have to be a "presence" to make your presence felt.

17. Ryan Meara - New York Red Bulls ($33,750)
Possibly a top 5 goalkeeper in MLS and a possible candidate for Rookie of the Year. Meara has made some huge saves and looks to be getting even better as the season continues. He's a key piece to New York's recent success and should be fun to watch come playoff time.

18. Raymon Gaddis - Philadelphia Union ($33,750)
Speedy right back who;s been hung out to dry in Philadelphia. He's made some great plays and some not-so-great plays, but when his technical skills on the ball improve, he could a promising young star in the future. Philadelphia is a mess, but Gaddis has continued to show the coaches that he's willing to do whatever it takes to be on the pitch.

19. David Estrada - Seattle Sounders FC ($44,000)
Off to a hot start then cooled down a bit, Estrada has stayed afloat with goals here and there. He's been given consistent playing time with Johnson, Rosales and Fernandez struggling to return to full strength, but some are still wondering if he's got what it takes to be an every-game starter. Only time will tell...

20. Zach Scott - Seattle Sounders FC ($46,314)
The Sounders have struggled to field a consistent back line all season, but Scott remains a strong option each and every week. He got abused against Montreal this past Saturday, but he's rarely injured and can play a full 90 minutes anytime he's called upon.

Monday, April 30, 2012

MLS Week 8: Good vs Poor - Decisions that lead to goals

Goals don't just happen. There's a reason why they happen - either a bad pass to a defenseless keeper, a great tackle that changes the possession, or maybe even an off the ball run which allows a teammate to get free on goal. No matter what the circumstance is, when it comes to scoring or conceding goals - there's always a could've, should've, would've on both sides of the ball.

Let's take a look at how a key goal developed in Week 8 and expand upon it from both sides.

Chicago Fire vs. Seattle Sounders: Breaking down the own goal conceded by Arne Friedrich

Point #1 - Pressure forces poor decision making
At 36:45 Chicago Fire goalkeeper, Sean Johnson, catches the ball and rolls a short pass to Dan Paladini. Seattle Sounders' right back Adam Johansson immediately closes on him, forcing him to turn back to goal and lay the ball off to Gonzalo Segares. Segares has a clean pass to Patrick Nyarko up the line, but Jeff Parke immediately closes on him, forcing Nyarko to get rid of it quickly as well.

The ball eventually ends up at the feet of Jalil Anibaba who is, once again, immediately pressured by a Sounders player (Eddie Johnson). Instead of playing the ball back to Johnson who can launch it up field - Anibaba decides to switch the field of play in his own half. The high wind gusts force the ball to sail behind Dan Gargan and out of bounds, giving Seattle possession deep in Chicago's half. A few passes later the ball winds-up back in Seattle's half where a mistake by the Sounders' keeper almost changes EVERYTHING.

Point #2 - One touch can make all the difference
At 37:40 Sounders' goalkeeper Michael Gspurning receives the ball from Parke about 5 yards out of his box. He too makes a somewhat questionable decision (with the high wind gusts) by trying to chip the ball to Jhon Kennedy Hurtado. Sebastian Grazzini's eyes light up as he sees the ball drifting right to him. Normally Grazzini will do much better here, but his first touch slightly gets away, allowing Hurtado (the only defender standing in his way of a sure goal) to win a crucial last line tackle. This tackle not only denies Chicago of a clear scoring opportunity, but ultimately leads to the start of an attack that results in a Sounders goal a mere 20 seconds later.

Point #3 Regroup and use your vision
After the tackle Osvaldo Alonso controls the ball and distributes to David Estrada around midfield. Estrada passes it back to Alonso who then feeds a brilliant half-field thru ball to a streaking Eddie Johnson. Johnson gathers the ball by the end-line and passes to Estrada who has just caught up to the play. Estrada's pass towards Freddy Montero has no shot of getting there, but a poor touch from Arne Friedrich catches Sean Johnson in "no man's land" and gives the Sounders the lead going into halftime.

Match Highlights and Recap - Chicago Fire vs. Seattle Sounders

How it could've been avoided...
Multiple things could've went differently between Johnson's distribution to Paladini and the own goal by Friedrich. Pressure helps force turnovers, but the costly mistake was Anibaba trying to do too much. He should've known what the wind was doing to the ball, especially by the 38th minute.

Seattle instantly benefited by regaining possession, but almost gave it right back. Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (returning from an ACL injury) was my "Man of the Match" along with Osvaldo Alonso in this game. The Seattle back line had its hands full with Nyarko and Oduro all night, but Hurtado was a key contributor in Seattle's victory - at both ends of the field.

Friday, April 27, 2012

MLS Video: My Skill Set - Portland Timbers' Franck Songo'o

We don't always get a chance to see players up close and person. If you never meet a player or see them in an interview, it can be hard to fully appreciate their talent unless they're out on the field performing.  Newcomer for the Portland Timbers, Franck Songo'o, looks like he could be a nice addition to a struggling Timbers squad, but unfortunately he's only seen 151 minutes of play so far in 2012.

At just 24 years old, Songo'o has already played for clubs in both the English Premier League and La Liga. It's difficult to say how much playing time he'll get this season, but he's definitely got the skill set to perform at a high level. Will he gel with his teammates and does Head Coach John Spencer see him fitting into a specific role?

Only time will tell how quickly he adjusts to his new surroundings. Until then, meet Franck Songo'o and enjoy this video that highlights his skill set.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Week 7: Chris Pontius vs Dominic Oduro - Who was better?


Chris Pontius stole the show in Sunday's match against the New York Red Bulls - winning Player of the Week honors - but did he really have that good of a game? He did great to finish his opportunities, but the Red Bulls were responsible for all three goals to some extent. Pontius had 37 touches (less than 6% of DC’s total touches) in 87 minutes. 16 of the 37 touches were passes, of which he completed just 70% (14/20). He gave up possession of the ball 12 times (11 in the oppositions half) and his only touch in DC’s own half was a pass lost. He did however have 2 key passes to go along with his 5 shots.Pontius Heat map and total touches breakdown

Dominic Oduro capitalized on a Toronto FC mistake (combined with the hustle of Patrick Nyarko), scoring just 25 seconds into the game. He then returned the favor with a nice feed from midfield, setting Nyarko up for the game-winner. Oduro played 84 minutes and had 33 total touches. He completed 91% of his passes and only lost possession 5 times. He also won 4 fouls – 3 in the oppositions’ half. Oduro had the more complete game between the two, but was it good enough? You decide.Oduro Heat map and total touches breakdown

MLS Week 7: Statistical Breakdown


Chris Pontius
Dominic Oduro
Touches
37
33
Passes
20
21
Passing %
70%
91%
Goals
3
1
Assists
0
1
Shots
5
4
Fouls Won
0
4
Possession Lost
12
5
Ball Recoveries
3
6












So, who do you think had the better game? Do the goals outweigh everything else?

Monday, April 2, 2012

My Friends Think I Work For Castrol...

If you think your forwards are slacking (or your whole team for that matter), and you’ve already used your free transfer the week, consider using your wildcard. With the wildcard you can reset your entire roster without losing a single point. But use it wisely because you only get one all season.


And if you need a mentor, check out my front line. When you compare it to the Castrol Index released last week you might think I had something to do with it. I promise I didn’t. Don’t be fooled though, managing a team this stacked does take some effort.


Adding Estrada to your squad will free up money for you to use on other key players.  He’s on a team full of talented playmakers and they’re going to score goals. He might not score every week, but he has the potential to score. Play around with your roster and if you have a fantasy related questions, just ask. You can find me on Twitter @Ben_Jata

Friday, December 2, 2011

Is This Player's Dream Finally Coming to an End?

With the 2012 MLS Combine & SuperDraft lurking just around the corner, some of the guys at the office were reminiscing about one of the more memorable parts of the drafts in the past. That being the speech given by my brother in 2009. Jason Saghini, the brain behind the production of the Rookie Life Series, told me yesterday that the main reason he selected Richard for the show was because of his speech. Most of the draftees featured in the program (found on MLSSoccer.com) consists of 1st and 2nd round selections. As most of you know already, Richard Jata was selected 58th overall, out of a possible 60. Go to the 3:54 mark in the video clip below to see the speech again. It's a moment that will stick with me for the rest of my life and I'm truly grateful MLS released it for all of us to see.



I remember the 2009 SuperDraft as if it were yesterday. Names of former teammates and friends of Richard's were getting picked over him left and right. Its as if his journey to IMG Academy and time with the PDL team in high school didn't amount for anything. Its as if his "nearly full ride" to Furman didn't mean anything - same recruiting class as Jonathan Leathers and Shea Salinas. Its as if turning down the 50% offer by Wake Forest (all they could do at the time due to funding) meant nothing. Its as if his game-winners in Campbell's 3 consecutive victories (2007-2009) over UNC got lost in the other, more important scores. Richard's decision to accept a full ride to Campbell University might have been a poor decision in terms of exposure, but in essence, it might just end up leading him to his future wife.

Its a shame to see such a talented and dedicated individual like Richard get wiped away from the game he gave his life too. Some may say it happens all the time - and I might agree to some extent, but this is different.  I saw the sacrifices he endured growing up as a teenager. He left home and all of his friends to go to IMG Academy as a sophomore in high school. He practiced hours upon hours all by himself while his friends were out partying and living it up. He was a 15-year old kid on a mission and nothing was going to get in his way.

After finishing the 2011 season with the newly refurbished Wilmington Hammerheads squad of the USLPRO, Richard is finding it harder and harder to support himself and his future decisions without a steady job. He realizes that if he wants to take the next step with his longtime girlfriend, Ashley Smith, he's going to have to give up on his lifelong dream of becoming a professional soccer player and start looking for that 9 to 5. Unfortunately, for a college graduate with little experience on his resume other than a long list of awards and accolades contributed mainly to soccer, its tougher than you might think. Seen in the image on the right, Richard has had to pickup a holiday season stint with UPS just keep up with his bills, while he continues to look for a full-time job with benefits.

Richard's professional career may have been brief, but he certainly made an "Impact"!?! After spending the entire 2009 preseason with the Chicago Fire, Denis Hamlett decided to release him in favor of a developmental player who spent the previous season with the team.  The trails in France were also brief and the language barriers were nearly impossible to breach. After talking to people during the teams visit to FC New York in 2011, I can see why he doesn't want to return for the 2012 season either. The pay is horrible and the coaching is nothing to be desired. Young players need to be encouraged at times and if there's a lack of mutual respect from both parties, the relationship between player and coach will not succeed.

I ask myself this question all the time, Why were the Soccer Gods so good to Richard in high school and college - blessing him with knowledgeable coaches who exuded guidance and direction - but so cruel to him at the professional level, where a coach can be the most influential person in your life? I can only imagine what a coach like Sigi Schmid or Peter Nowak could've done with Richard had they been given the chance.

This year I turned 28, and on my birthday I received a package in the mail from North Carolina, where Richard currently resides. As I walked to my room to open my gift, so many things popped into my head. What could it be? Seconds after ripping off the wrapping paper I realized what it was. There in front of me was the only professional game-worn jersey my brother will ever wear. Along with the gift was a card that read this, "Ben,...I wanted you to have the only official Jata #9 jersey from my first pro season in the USL. I want you to know that I have only achieved my success in soccer because I had a close brother helping me all these years. You inspired me to be great so here is a thank you gift for helping me! I love you!" - Richard

So now that the story of "Richard Jata - The Soccer Player" finally comes to an end and "Richard Jata - The Family Man" starts its journey, there's one person I want to send a special thanks to:

To my younger brother, Richard Jata, YOU have truly inspired me to do great things. I look up to you for what you have accomplished and I will cherish all the moments we spent together playing soccer growing up. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving me the joy of following you on your journey through all the ups and downs. Its truly been an amazing ride. Without your enduring passion for the game and monumental success at the college level, I'd have nothing to write about.  Your professional career may end with a one-year stint at a club some people would never give the time of day to go see, but I did and I'm extremely grateful I got to witness it. My contributions to your career may seem insignificant to some, but at least I know they meant a lot to you. Love Ya Bro!

Here's a few brief videos from over the years that I never get tired of watching...


Friday, August 19, 2011

No Glory Tonight...Hammerheads Lose 5-4 in PK Shootout!

With their star center midfielder, Luke Mulholland out with a Hamstring injury, Wilmington would have to look elsewhere if they were going to get past a strong Richmond team. Right from the get go the Hammerheads pushed the attack, controlling possession for the first 20 minutes of the game. The first scoring opportunity of the game came when Andriy Budnyy took on a few Richmond defenders and blasted a left-footed shot from just inside the box on the left side, but the Kickers goalkeeper made a great diving save to keep it level.

Richmond looked uncomfortable for the majority of the first half, sending several passes out of bounds.  However, a couple Hammerheads fouls deep in their own half opened the door for the Kickers to capitalize. Fortunately, both free kick attempts were blocked.

Wilmington controlled possession for the remainder of the half, but couldn't get anything going offensively.  The long balls weren't doing anything as Richmond played more defensively as the half progressed. Going into halftime the score remained 0-0.

#5 for the Richmond Kickers was yellow carded in the 47th minute for throwing an elbow on Tanner Wolfe deep in the Hammerheads territory. Moments later Paul Nicholson was cautioned as well for a double leg tackle in Richmond's defensive half.

Tanner Wolfe's header from the top of the box in the 52nd minute off a cross from Dylan Riley sailed wide of the net. Tom Parrat's shot from distance in the 57th minute also sailed high after a great build up by the Hammerheads. Moments later Garreth Evans went down after colliding heads with a Richmond player. Evans remained down for several minutes before coming out on his own will. The Hammerheads played with 10 men for the next few minutes until Evans returned with a fresh new jersey(#20) and a bandage around his head.

Richmond had a 3 on 2 break in the 70th minute but the shot was blocked and cleared by Dylan Riley. The Kickers found the back of the net in the first half and again in the second half, but fortunately for the Hammerheads, both were called back due to fouls in the box.

Richard Jata and Andres Cuero were subbed in for Tanner Wolfe and Jack Avesyon in the 73rd minute of play.

The best chance by either side came in the 90th minute when E. Elcock weaved his way through the Hammerheads defense, but a huge save by Brock Duckworth kept the scored tied nil-nil. It had to be the save of the night! A few last ditch efforts were made by Richmond, but the Hammerheads snuffed them out.  Now we head to extra time.

Wow! A huge save by Brock Duckworth right out the gates to keep the score tied. The Hammerheads had a great opportunity off a Chris Bagley throw-in in the 93rd minute that was headed just over the crossbar.

Tom Parrat was cautioned in the 99th minute for dissent. A few minutes later, #23 for Richmond was cautioned for a hard foul on Richard Jata near midfield. At the end of the first overtime period, the Richmond Kickers had more opportunities, but Wilmington maintained the majority of the possession.

Chris Murray came on for Manny Guzman in the second overtime period due to leg cramps. Diego Barrera checked in for Paul Nicholson a few minutes before the end of the second overtime period.

The Hammerheads were awarded a free kick just outside the box with no time remaining in the second overtime period. I thought Richard Jata was going to win the game with one his spectacular free kicks, but Andriy Budnyy took it instead, sending his team's final attempt in the second overtime straight into the wall.

With the entire Wilmington midfield already subbed out and Chris Banks replaced by Chris Bagley, it was all in the hands of the subs and Brock Duckworth to advance to the semifinals.

Penalty Shootout

Richmond would kick first to start the shootout...

(1-1) - Andriy Budnyy places his attempt to the left side and in
(2-2) - Richard Jata drills his attempt towards the left post and in
(3-3) - Diego Barrera puts his attempt in the side netting just inside the right post
(4-4) - Andres Cuero's attempt is stopped initially by the keeper, but trickles just inside the left post and in to keep it tied at 4 a piece going into the final kick.
(5-4) - Chris Bagley shoots to the right side, but the Richmond keeper gets a hand on it before it bounces off the inside of the post. The goalie gets up and dives to save it on its way back across the net.

The Richmond Kickers win on penalty kicks (5-4) and advance to the American Division Semifinals