Month: April 2019

New on SocTakes: 1 and done: Pro teams without Open Cup victory

1 and done
Photo credit: Jamie Smed/Soc Takes

It’s officially Open Cup season once again, my favorite time of year filled with chaos and giant-slayers and more soccer than one can possibly hope to follow simultaneously. Trust me, I’ve tried.

The 2019 Open Cup features a whopping 84 teams, and while it’s down slightly from last year, there’s been a massive expansion of local qualifying and a sizable increase in the number of professional sides competing. Last year there were 42, this year 52.

This got me thinking: How many of the competing teams have never won a game in the tournament?

I narrowed this down to just the professional teams, as unlike with the professional sides, the amateur/semipro teams aren’t fixed, meaning many teams are either making their Open Cup debuts or making their first appearance in a few years.

So, that’s 52 teams left. We’ll then trim down the new-for-2019 teams that have never played in the Open Cup. That leaves us with either 42 or 41 teams, depending on whether you consider the MLS iteration of FC Cincinnati the same team that played in USL, or a different team. Honestly, it doesn’t matter, as you’ll see further down the article.

Now onto the fun part. Let’s eliminate from the list all of the Open Cup winners. That’s nine teams from MLS (Chicago, Seattle, Kansas City, DC, Dallas, LA Galaxy, Columbus, New England, Houston) and one from USL League One, the Richmond Kickers, who won in 1995.

And then there were 32. We can then go through every other finalist and eliminate them, too. That’s four more teams from MLS (Philadelphia, New York Red Bulls, Colorado Rapids, Real Salt Lake) and Charleston from the USL Championship. Down to 27.

We’ll narrow that down year by year, beginning in 1996 with the founding of MLS and the oldest of the teams remaining on our list, even though no other names get scratched that year. We have to wait until 1997 to remove another name from our list, the San Jose Earthquakes. Back when they were known as the San Jose Clash, they defeated the Central Coast Roadrunners 5-2 in the second round.

No other names fall from 1998 to 2000, but in 2001, we get to take another name off our list. The Pittsburgh Riverhounds appeared in their second Open Cup and made it all the way to the quarterfinals. They beat the Rapids in the first round 2-0, then the El Paso Patriots in the second round 2-1 before falling in sudden-death overtime — which was a thing back then — to the Chicago Fire.

We have another big gap now, as the next-oldest entrant in 2019, North Carolina FC, began play in 2007. Back then, when they were the RailHawks — a far superior brand than what they currently use, in my very biased opinion — they made a splash in the Open Cup by beating the reigning champion Chicago Fire 1-0 in their debut. They also beat the Kickers to make it to the semifinals, where they eventually lost 2-1 to New England in added time.

We’re down to 24, and it’s time to skip ahead again to 2010. The Tampa Bay Rowdies made their Open Cup debut under their previous name, FC Tampa Bay. In their first game, they defeated Dallas-based Legends FC 3-0 before falling 2-1 to Miami FC (no, not that one) in the next round.

2011 marks another name off our list, Orange County SC. In their inaugural season, they won their first two games against the Hollywood United Hitmen and Ventura County Fusion before losing to the LA Galaxy in the third round.

2012 doesn’t eliminate any names from our list but 2013 does. The Portland Timbers won their first Open Cup game after joining MLS, beating the Wilmington Hammerheads 5-1 to avenge their loss to Cal FC the previous year.

Onto 2014, with our biggest year to date for first wins. Sacramento Republic FC beat Ventura County Fusion 2-1 and then Fresno Fuego 6-0 before losing 2-1 to the San Jose Earthquakes. Phoenix Rising also got their first wins — as Arizona United SC — beating Timbers U23s 3-2 and OKC Energy FC 2-1 before losing to the Galaxy 2-1. The Energy also got their first win, beating the Tulsa Athletics 2-0. The Indy Eleven beat the Dayton Dutch Lions 5-2 before losing 2-1 to Columbus. With that, we’re down to 18.

1 and done
Photo credit: Robbie Mehling/Soc Takes

2015 marks another big year for first wins. The Charlotte Independence won 4-1 against the Upward Stars, 1-0 against the RailHawks, 1-0 against New England and make it all the way to the fifth round before losing to Chicago. Louisville City FC won 1-0 against Lansing United and 2-0 against the Indy Eleven before losing to Chicago. The Colorado Springs Switchbacks won 2-1 against Harpo’s FC and 1-0 against the Real Monarchs before losing to the Rapids. Saint Louis FC prevailed 2-1 against the Des Moines Menace and on penalties against Minnesota United before losing to Sporting KC. The Tulsa Roughnecks won 1-0 against the Seacoast United Phantoms before losing to OKC. Orlando City SC got its first MLS-era wins, beating Charleston in penalties and winning 2-0 against Columbus before, you guessed it, losing to Chicago.

Eleven teams remain.

Things quiet down in 2016, with only one team getting its first Open Cup win. San Antonio FC rose from the ashes of the Scorpions, beating Corinthians FC 3-1 and Des Moines 2-1 before losing to Houston.

In 2017, two more names fall. Reno 1868 FC got its first win, beating OSA FC in penalties before losing to Sacramento. Atlanta also snagged its first win, beating Charleston 3-2 before losing to Miami FC (yes, that one) 3-2.

Onward to 2018, the most recent completed tournament, where more names fall. Tormenta FC, now of USL League One, got a win in its Open Cup debut by beating the Myrtle Beach Mutiny 2-1 before losing to Charleston. Fresno got its first wins, 2-0 against Orange County FC and 2-1 against Sporting Arizona FC before losing to Los Angeles FC — LAFC’s first win. The Las Vegas Lights beat FC Tucson 4-2 before losing 2-1 to FC Golden State Force. Nashville SC earned its first wins by beating Inter Nashville FC 2-0, Mississippi Brilla 3-1 and the Rapids 2-0 before losing to Louisville. Minnesota United FC also got the first win of its MLS era, beating FC Cincinnati in penalties.

And then there was one.

Just one of the professional entrants with prior U.S. Open Cup experience has failed to win a game: New York City FC. They’ve played four games in four tournaments, and have lost all four.

In 2015, they drew the New York Cosmos in their first Open Cup game. Kwadwo Poku gave City a 2-0 lead by the 57th minute, but Leo Fernandes scored in the 65th and Lucky Mkosana in the 90th to send the game to extra time. There were three yellow cards handed out but no goals scored, and thus, penalties. The gods of the PK did not smile upon the Pigeons, and the Cosmos moved on.

They had a chance at revenge in 2016, once again playing the Cosmos for their first game of the tournament. Danny Szetela scored the only goal of the game in the 88th minute to eliminate NYCFC for the second year in a row. 2017 meant City would play their cross-Hudson rivals, the New York Red Bulls. Daniel Royer gave the Red Bulls the lead in the 67th minute, his first career Open Cup goal, and yet again NYCFC was out after its first game.

After three years, one might think things would be different. They’d be wrong. In 2018, City drew the Red Bulls again, playing in Red Bull Arena again. Vincent Bezecourt gave the Red Bulls the lead in the second minute and they never let up. Three goals and 88 minutes later, City was out again in embarrassing fashion after a 4-0 loss to its biggest rival.

In four games, NYCFC has scored just twice while conceding eight times and receiving seven yellow cards. Fifth time’s a charm, maybe?

Oh, and before I forget, the Cincinnati question. I treated the MLS incarnations of USL and NASL teams as separate entities, which they legally are, so Cincinnati is treated as a brand new team for 2019. If, however, you consider them a continuation of the USL club, their first Open Cup win came in 2016, a 2-1 win over the Indy Eleven’s now-defunct NPSL side.

Stay tuned for more fun U.S. Open Cup stories and analysis from us here at Soc Takes. I just can’t wait for the tournament to start!

Follow John on Twitter: @JohnMLTX.

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New on SocTakes: MLS expansion #oddz

Photo credit: Robbie Mehling/Soc Takes

With the announcement that MLS will, as long suspected, be growing to at least 30 teams, now’s the perfect time for rampant speculation, treating rumor as fact and ranking the most likely expansion targets. Based on what we currently know about teams, cities, their stadium plans and their ambitions, we can put together an actually not-too-terrible list of most to least likely, even down to who gets which of the next three expansion spots to be announced. I’m also speculating that MLS will, sometime in 2021-22, announce plans to grow to 32 teams in total, meaning that there will likely be two more spots up for grabs in the next six years. Let’s do this.

1. Sacramento

  • 50% – Team 28
  • 30% – Team 29
  • 10% – Team 30
  • 10% – Next round

It’s obvious. Sacramento has to be getting in, right? Right? MLS people have been visiting Sacramento, Sacramento Republic people have been visiting MLS, the announcement for expansion on the MLS site name drops Sacramento three times and they have absolutely everything MLS asked of them ready to go. Fans? Check. Stadium? Check. Money? Large novelty cheque.

They narrowly missed out last time when Nashville and Cincinnati were announced, they’ve been constantly discussed by peoples both in-the-know and in-the-know adjacent, and really, MLS is running out of excuses. We’ve long since passed the point where Sacramento fans spoke about an MLS announcement the way Cubs fans spoke about the World Series for the better part of the last century. Sacramento even went out and strengthened its bid in the aftermath of MLS’ previous decision. It legitimately feels inevitable. I’m even willing to go out on a limb and say that the Sacramento Republic gets announced as an MLS expansion franchise before 2019 is over. Unless, that is, they remain in endless purgatory, perpetually tormented by the unfulfilled prospects of MLS.

2. St. Louis

  • 30% – Team 28
  • 35% – Team 29
  • 25% – Team 30
  • 10% – Next round

St. Louis has rocketed from outside the shortlist in 2017 to the forefront of the expansion conversation in recent months, with the community and community leaders rallying behind #MLS4THELOU. This new bid includes Jim Kavanaugh, who’s the CEO of World Wide Technology, a former MISL player, the president of both St. Louis Scott Gallagher and Saint Louis FC, and a minority owner of the St. Louis Blues. It also involves the Taylor Family, who owns Enterprise.

Kavanaugh is highly respected both in the business and soccer communities in St. Louis, while the Taylors are among the wealthiest and most recognizable families in the area. The new stadium plan they put forward has flown through the approval process compared to the issues in Miami — and, to a lesser extent, Austin — and momentum is building. They too got name dropped thrice in the latest article from MLS, and it feels like it’s another nearly done deal.

Photo credit: Robbie Mehling/Soc Takes

3. Indianapolis

  • 10% – Team 28
  • 20% – Team 29
  • 45% – Team 30
  • 25% – Next Round

Indy is another big mover, thanks to the success of Ersal Ozdemir’s Eleven Park proposal. While it might not seem ideal at first glance that the requirement for MLS was scrapped, that actually looks to have helped the deal move through the Indiana legislature. All that’s left is for the ink to dry on Gov. Eric Holcomb’s signature after the Indiana House and Senate approved the latest version of Senate Bill 7. Should that happen, that’s Indy’s MLS stadium sorted.

As for the investors involved with the bid itself, it’s the same group that currently owns the Indy Eleven in the USL Championship and they more than meet MLS’ requirements. I’m leaning on them getting Team 30, the last to be awarded from the current round, as I don’t think they’re quite as ready to go as the top two, but they’re getting very, very close.

Photo credit: Robbie Mehling/Soc Takes

4. Charlotte

  • 5% – Team 28
  • 10% – Team 29
  • 15% – Team 30
  • 70% – Next round

Charlotte’s bid in 2017 fell apart pretty badly, but has been revived with Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper at the helm. When he bought the Panthers last year, there was speculation about him possibly trying to move the team, but recent talks with MLS — one of four active discussions Garber mentioned, as reported by ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle — combined with a survey sent out April 10 about bringing MLS to Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium mean there’s definitely something going on in the city on his end.

Charlotte is still a long shot, and a lot more needs to happen locally for things to happen before 2022, but these look to be the early makings of something similar to the current efforts in St. Louis.

5. Phoenix

  • 5% – Team 28
  • 5% – Team 29
  • 5% – Team 30
  • 85% – Next round

Phoenix rounds out the mathematical odds in this ranking, as their bid has quieted down in recent months. The same bid that was submitted in 2017 is still alive, as compared to Charlotte, but they’ve focused much more on USL Championship action at present.

They don’t really have their stadium situation sorted, although they have some promising ideas and their ownership group has been organized with MLS in mind. If they manage to turn their very pretty stadium renders into something concrete this summer, though, who knows?

Now, onto the other noteworthy mentions that could move into this top five with #oddz in the near future.

6. Raleigh

Raleigh is another real option for MLS in North Carolina. North Carolina FC submitted a bid in 2016 for the 2017 round, and while that didn’t really go anywhere, they actually are making moves towards construction of a stadium. They’ve bought land, they’ve released their plans and they have the ownership, but they’re asking for public money, and that’s going to be a potential political mess.

North Carolina FC owner Steve Malik thinks that 31 or 32 is a real possibility, and I don’t think he’s wrong, I just don’t think they have everything together just yet.

7. San Diego

We know that Landon Donovan has been discussing bringing another MLS team to California, and the plans for SDSU’s redevelopment of the aging SDCCU Stadium call for a new venue that might just be perfect for MLS.

The money is there, the stadium might be there, and it’s one to keep an eye on.

8. Detroit

Detroit has fallen from inside the shortlist to a stalled effort over the past year, and things have been quiet. Too quiet.

MLS would very much like to be in Detroit, but right now there’s no one making the necessary noise which leads to that reality. They’re another city in discussions, but I’m gonna need to see some press releases with substance and a better stadium plan than Ford Field before I take them too seriously.

9. Louisville

Louisville is building a stadium that could, without much difficulty, be expanded to capacities MLS wants. That said, MLS isn’t their primary focus, and that’s perfectly fine. In fact, it’s arguably better for their long-term survival if they’re not pitching fans on MLS in the near future, and instead working to be the best club they can be, regardless of the league in which they play.

Still, though, once 2020 gets here and their new stadium is open, they might change their tone.

Photo credit: Robbie Mehling/Soc Takes

10. Tampa Bay

I still think Tampa Bay could happen. With the Rays buying the Rowdies, the money and local connections are stronger than ever, and I really, really want to see that expanded Al Lang happen.

If the Rays can get their new ballpark sorted, they can then turn to getting things ready to move the Rowdies into MLS. This is one of those “if MLS goes past 32” bids, though. And there’s no way that’ll ever happen, wink.

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New on SocTakes: USL Championship chaos through Week 5

USL championship chaos
Photo credit: Robbie Mehling/Soc Takes

We’ve had a few weeks of USL Championship action, and while I was going to wait a bit longer before going all number nerdy, things have been far too chaotic to ignore. Upsets galore, some expansion teams doing unexpectedly well, some doing far worse than I predicted, and generally lots of stuff to #HotTake about.

I’m not going team by team and doing all the numbers and explanations, that can wait until May when there’s a much larger — and more statistically significant — sample size. I am, though, looking at points-per-game data for 2018 and 2019 (so far), and using that for the basis of this rambling analysis.

I first calculated my numbers and ran a basic correlation analysis in Excel. It spat out a whopping 11.4%. In a nutshell, there’s basically no connection whatsoever between the results of this season and last. Let’s dive in to show just how chaotic things are.

We begin, as is tradition, with the Western Conference.

Two teams have moved by an entire point per game (roughly): Tulsa Roughnecks and Orange County SC. Tulsa has come out of the gate swinging, coming back from a 2-0 deficit to beat Orange County 5-3, blanking Tacoma and currently leads the Western Conference. They blew it right the hell up at the end of last season and it looks like it might actually work.

Orange County on the entirely opposite hand has walked into the gate, fallen over and passed out on the starting line. The club finally managed a win, just the one, after losing to Tulsa and expansion El Paso. Five points through five from a team that completely bossed the Western Conference around last year is bad, and more importantly, made me look stupid. I did give Orange County 10% odds of being a mess, but I honestly didn’t expect it might be this bad.

Honorable mention goes to Los Dos, who actually look half good for once in a very long time, and a major dishonorable mention goes to Phoenix Rising. Phoenix is sitting at four points through four games, and that’s just plain dreadful. It’s inexplicable. I might as well mention RGV, a team that was pretty bad last year and is much, much worse so far in 2019. The Toros have played five games and have two points. TWO. They can’t even use excuses about a tough schedule or road games, either. Not good, my dudes.

Only one team out West that was genuinely really good last year remains really good, and that’s Sacramento. They kept most of their major players, and they’ve been ramping up their efforts on and off the field to build momentum for MLS once again. Hopefully, it works. There aren’t many reasons why Sacramento shouldn’t be in MLS in two years.

And onto the East.

Saint Louis completed their fifth conference switch in five seasons, prolonging my favorite administrative meme in USL, and are finding the Eastern Conference a much, much easier game. They’re sitting comfortably atop the conference and are playing the best they ever have. Very, very great work. Tampa Bay and the Baby Bulls both get a nod for improvement, and they’re hot on Saint Louis’s heels.

USL championship chaos
Photo credit: Robbie Mehling/Soc Takes

On the opposite side, we find two teams with one point through three: the Swope Park Rangers and Charlotte Independence. They’re bad. Real bad. Very, very, very bad. Charlotte’s big announcement can’t come soon enough, as hopefully it means more money for this team. Also, we gotta talk about Louisville. Down .741 points per game from last season, they’re not far removed from the playoff bubble at the moment. I know it’s early, but yikes and/or oof.

Take a look at this. Them right there are the expansion teams. Now, let’s talk about the expansion teams.

In the West, one of the three newbies is within playoff range: New Mexico United. They’re fifth in the conference by PPG, have 10 points through six matches and are the only newcomer to have really figured things out early. They’re one of the few predictions I made in March that’s holding true.

El Paso and Austin are both doing OK. They’re not yet in the playoff picture, but they’re not so far away now that things are impossible. El Paso needs to find some chemistry with their defense, and they’ll be fine. Austin, meanwhile, needs to score more goals. It’s much easier said than shot, I’m well aware, but it’s the biggest issue they’re facing so far.

The same can’t quite be said as much for the East, unfortunately. Memphis is doing adequately, but not much better just yet, Birmingham and Loudoun are both struggling early, and then there’s Hartford. Oh, Hartford.

You see, back in March, I was buying all the Hartford Athletic stock I could get my hands on. Then, they went and lost their first five games played by an aggregate scoreline of 2-11. The flattening at the hands of the Rowdies was a particularly dire affair and I’m getting ready to start selling. A team that plays a 5-4-1 that can’t defend is a team with some rather serious problems. Maybe they’ll figure it out come June and they’ll be the next 2018 OKC Energy for me to write about in a few months. But I have some major worries about the new New England team.

I’ll hold off on any meaningful attendance discussion for now, simply because we don’t have much in terms of data just yet, but things are looking sufficiently fine to keep me from tweeting about it. Really, until everyone’s played at least four or five home games, there’s nothing to actually analyze.

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New on SocTakes: 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup schedule and groups released

2019 concacaf gold cup
Image credit: Concacaf Gold Cup

It’s Gold Cup time once again, with the USA hosting the bulk of the tournament, joined by Jamaica and Costa Rica, which will both host two games each. Here’s how the groups ended up:

🇲🇽 Mexico 🇨🇷 Costa Rica 🇭🇳 Honduras 🇺🇸 United States
🇨🇦 Canada 🇭🇹 Haiti 🇯🇲 Jamaica 🇵🇦 Panama
🇫🇷 Martinique 🇳🇮 Nicaragua 🇸🇻 El Salvador 🇹🇹 Trinidad and Tobago
🇨🇺 Cuba 🇧🇲 Bermuda 🇨🇼 Curaçao 🇬🇾 Guyana

Group A opens with Canada vs. Martinique and Mexico vs. Cuba at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on June 15. It continues June 19 at Mile High Stadium in Denver and concludes June 23 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.

Group B begins with Haiti vs. Bermuda and Costa Rica vs. Nicaragua on June 16 at Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica in San José, Costa Rica. It continues at Toyota Stadium in Frisco on June 20 and ends at Red Bull Arena in Harrison.

Group C opens on June 17 with Curaçao vs. El Salvador and Jamaica vs. Honduras at Independence Park in Kingston, Jamaica. It moves on to BBVA Compass in Houston on June 21 and finishes at Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles on June 25.

Group D starts with Panama vs. Trinidad and Tobago and the United States vs. Guyana on June 18 at Allianz Field in Saint Paul. It continues at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland on June 22 and wraps up on June 26 at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City.

The quarterfinals begin June 29, with Group A vs. Group B at Houston’s NRG Stadium. Group C vs. Group D takes place June 30 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

The semifinal for Group A and Group B teams takes place July 2 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, while the semifinal for Group C and Group D is July 3 at Nissan Stadium in Nashville.

The 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup final will be held July 7 at Soldier Field in Chicago.

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