MLS playoffs

The Premier League and other levels of the English soccer pyramid awards the title to the team with the best record. There are no playoffs for that prize.

However, in the promotion part of the competition, there are playoffs.

For example, in the English League Championship (tier 2), the top team wins the title and promotion to the Premier League. The second place team gains promotion to the Premier league. The third place team plays the sixth place team in one of the semi-finals, while the fourth and fifth place clubs play in the other semi-finals. The respective winners match up in a final with the winner gaining the third promotion slot to the Premier League.

MLS does it entirely differently. There is no promotion/relegation. The regular season winner gets the Supporters Shield (and an automatic bid to the CONCACAF Champions League) but the MLS Cup goes to the winner of the playoffs. The MLS is divided into Eastern and Western Conferences. The top two teams in these conferences are slotted into the Conference semi-finals with their opponents determined by knock-out matches between #3 vs. #6 and #4 vs. #5. The Conference semi-finals are two-legged as are the Conference finals. The MLS Cup is a single match at the home field of the finalist with the best regular season record.

This year Toronto dominated the regular season and are expected to win their playoff contests for the Eastern Conference's slot in the MLS Cup. It isn't clear who is the strongest in the Western Conference as the regular season point separation between #1 through #5 was a mere 4 points. An indication of the parity of the West is the first leg results between Portland/Houston and Seattle/Vancouver yielded the identical scores of 0-0!

Portland scored the most goals in the Western Conference. Seattle had the second best defense in the Western Conference. Using the "defense wins in playoffs" rationale, am picking Seattle.

In a Seattle vs. Toronto re-match for MLS Cup.... will it be 0-0 like last year with Seattle winning in PKs? I suspect this year Toronto wins it in regular time!




Anfield European Night - Maribor

LFC easily beat Maribor on the road and should have no trouble at home.

Of course, just saying that is tempting fate with the soccer script writers!

Starting XI:
Klopp is a creature of habit and he will use Karius in goal.

As for the back four:
Moreno - amazingly, he is number 4 in minutes played for the club after barely playing last season.
Alexander-Arnold (Klopp likes to rotate his youth so Gomez rests and AA gets the call)
Matip - the man with the most minutes on the field this season
The last spot will be filled with either Lovren or Klavan. Klavin should get the start even if Lovren is largely recovered from injury - update he is not. I think Lovren needs the break from the grind.

Midfield:
Wijnaldum, Henderson, Can.
I think, for rest purposes, Milner will be rotated out and Can rotated in. An intriguing option would be to put in Oxlade-Chamberlain instead.

Front:
Salah, Firmino, Coutinho (if healthy - update he is not). Sturridge is in if Couthinho isn't ready to go. An intriguing option here would be to play Solanke instead.

Sturridge, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Solanke will get minutes, it is just whether any one of them gets a start. And, if LFC can jump out to a big early lead, the sooner you will see them worked into the line-up to give the big guns a break.


Queen Park Ranger Defeat Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-1

Well done by the Hoops!

I read the match reports and see the highlights on the QPR site. Sometimes I'll watch sections of the full match replay if there is one posted at the QPR site.

Anyway, the team is always putting forth an effort. But in so many matches it is just a mistake or two and they get defeated or they miss some good chances and get only a draw.

Well, today, they got it done!

Late goal by the big man Smith at 81' to get the victory 2-1!

I wonder how many R fans are there in Los Angeles?

Below is the short highlight package without commentary at the QPR You Tube site. A longer version with commentary can be seen at the QPR page with registration.



Los Angelino visiting West London's Loftus Road

Was recently in the UK on business travel. However, did have a little bit of free time in London. On the free evening I had, there was one soccer match in London: Queens Park Rangers vs. Fulham.

Went online and ordered up a ticket on the South Africa Road stand. When I bought the ticket online, I figured I should read up about the club before seeing the match and the big news was QPR's involvement in the Game For Grenfell. In the summer of 2017, a horrible fire engulfed Grenfell Tower killing 80 and impacting the lives of multitudes in the West London area. Some of the leadership of Queens Park Rangers, a club just a couple of miles from the Grenfell Tower, felt the need to do something for the community and the idea of a charity match gathered support from a wide range of people with ties to West London. As it stands, the effort may raise nearly 1 million pounds. I found it easy to like QPR because of their can do community spirit!

In terms of QPR's on-the-field efforts, they had been competitive in matches but couldn't seem to get any wins. Expectations against Fulham were hopeful but confidence couldn't be considered high given QPR's form leading up to the game.

Took the London Underground and got out at Shepherd's Bush Market station. This part of London is very ethnically diverse and Uxbridge Road buzzed with activity in shops and restaurants.


Walked to the venerable Loftus Road stadium that sits in the middle of the residential area. The TV trucks were parked on Loftus Road as the evenings match was a West London Derby and televised. It was a nice Friday evening just a little cool for a Southern Californian but at least no rain!


Went to the team store and picked up a cap.


Walked back to Uxbridge Road and looked for some pre-game food at Lahore Spice. Had some reasonably priced chicken biryani.


Walked back to the stadium, showed my ticket, and entered the stadium. 


One of the stewards took a photo of me. He told me about the vocal but largely calm nature of the derby between Fulham and QPR compared to the more difficult Chelsea fans that are also part of the West London soccer scene. He observed that in the past, there were many American fans attending matches involving Fulham when Clint Dempsey with them. In an effort to establish my soccer fan credentials, I mentioned that Tim Ream is the current American on the Fulham squad. He asked me how I became a supporter of QPR. I told him essentially what I have relayed here: it was an opportunity to experience English football culture and I was impressed by QPR's efforts for the community with the Game For Grenfell. 


Wonderful atmosphere as the QPR supporters cheered for their team. Alas, the visitors had more to cheer about as Fulham won 2-1.

Queens Park Rangers will struggle to be in the top half of the table as they operate under the shadow financial fair play violations from their mad dash for promotion to the Premier League during the 2013-2014 season. There is no question they broke the rules. Their only hope is that the size of the fines could be reduced upon appeal. As a small club, their finances are somewhat precarious and the current management is trying to run QPR in a financially sustainable manner and are hoping to put that sorry chapter behind them. 

I will continue to follow and root for QPR even as they struggle as a bottom of the table English Football League Championship club because they are a community club with a heart as seen in the Game For Grenfell. More of that heart was on display the evening of the Fulham match when they had some participants from the Tiger Cubs on the field pre-match for photos, to meet players and receive the applause of the fans. This initiative involves the use of soccer and other activities to promote the well being of local Down Syndrome individuals.  

Come on you R's!
















Liverpool vs. Huddersfield Town



After the drubbing taken by LFC last weekend, the team and staff had a week to chew things over.

Am figuring the biggest decision is who gets the call for goalkeeper?

Have seen reports that Ward is injured; thus, does Klopp stick to his stated plan of Mignolet in Premier League and Karius in Champions League? I think this is a coin flip as both have had issues. But it might be time to roll the dice on Karius and see what he can do with a longer run of matches as the keeper.

As for the defensive back four, if Lovren is really taking painkiller routinely to stay in the game, he should be given the day off. As much as fans complain about him, the reality is who on the depth chart is a better or even comparable option? So if he is healthy, he still gets the call but am suspecting he isn't really anywhere near 100%. Thus, am looking to see Matip and Klavan as CB, Robertson at LB and Gomez at RB.

Reports say Coutinho is injured and won't be available. D-Midfield will be Can and Milner with Oxlade-Chamberlain and Henderson pushing ahead to link with two forwards Salah and Sturridge.

Subs likely to get game time, Solanke to replace Sturridge. Wijnaldum and Grujic to enter for whomever looks to need a break.

Go Reds!

UPDATE: 3-0 win by Liverpool! Klopp stuck by Mignolet and continues to choose Moreno over Robertson at left back. He also stayed with his preferred 4-3-3 thus Salah, Sturridge and Firmino were at the top. Milner, Henderson, and Wijnaldum were in midfield. Coutinho and Lovren were unavailable for selection due to injury.

Will be interested to see who he sends out for the mid-week match against Maribor. Karius in goal of course, but beyond that who gets the call?






Star Trek Discover Episodes 5-6 (contains spoilers)

I think what makes a TV show work is that you find the characters interesting enough to want to find out more about them and to see what happens to them. I think they are doing that. Tilly is no longer one dimensional. The writers are filling in Burnham's backstory in an interesting way. Saru continues to get some great scenes. Lorca remains a question mark to me. Sisko had his "In the Pale Moonlight" episode. However, Lorca, appears to be going farther off the reservation. Is he simply overzealous win at all costs? Or is there something pathological about the guy? Am thinking the writers want us to sit in that tension.

As far as plot points, especially in science fiction, you do accept some things that are implausible. However, if the writers make too many mistakes within the narrative world they have created, it can get pretty annoying pretty fast. Thus, for this review of Star Trek Discovery Episodes 5-6, I have complaints on that front.

The narrative arc of episode 5 is to have Captain Lorca captured by the Klingons so that they eventually escape with the help of prisoner (a subject of internet debate) Lt. Ash Tyler and be rescued by the Discovery using the spore drive under the control of Lt. Stamets instead of the poor dying tardigrade. Also, we get hints of the problem with the spore drive with the time shifted mirror image of Stamets at the end of the episode.

All fine and good but the whole episode rests on getting Captain Lorca kidnapped by the Klingons!

The Federation military knows that the Klingons have cloaked ships. Thus, Klingon ships can travel undetected until the last moment when they appear just before taking offensive action. Knowing this, you probably don't want to be sending one of your top military leaders (Lorca) in a lightly armed shuttlecraft to attend a meeting. Rather, you rely on your encrypted secure communication systems! You don't sending him in a rinky-dink puddle jumper with just one other armed soldier on board.

Of course the other problem is that even if you were stupid enough to send Lorca in the equivalent of a Cessna Piper Cub to attend the high level confab, how did the Klingons know his exact route and exact time he would be traveling? This would suggest there is a mole in the Federation providing such valuable intelligence data. Perhaps, that will be revealed in future episodes.

In any case, the various developments we get from episode 5 rests on an implausible premise.

As for the narrative arc of episode 6, the key is Sarek's diplomatic mission to assess peace feelers from the Klingons. This leads to the revelation of a radical faction within the Vulcan political system as its operative attempts to kill Sarek and sabotage the mission. With Sarek injured, Burnham senses his agony leading to some interesting character development as the story unfolds.

We know from Star Trek Enterprise that the Vulcan's had their share of political intrigue and even with the recovery of Surak's foundational teachings (episode arc in Enterprise season 4), bad habits are hard to put away fully. Nicely played by the writers here linking that with the Sarek/Burnham relationship.

If the episode ended there, things would have been fine. But instead, we are "treated" to the plot twist of Admiral Cornwall taking up Sarek's mission and getting kidnapped by the Klingons.

UGH!

First of all, Sarek, a seasoned diplomat, would not have arraigned a meeting at a location where either side would have had an easy opportunity to set up an ambush.

Second, even if Sarek was willing to take the risk of being caught or killed, as a Vulcan diplomat, he would not have detailed knowledge of the Federation's military plans and thus would not yield valuable information under torture.

Instead, we have the sorry spectacle of the highest ranking red shirt (Admiral Cornwall) ever getting into a situation that isn't going to end well. No one in her right mind and no aide/advisor to Cornwall would have allowed her to go on such a mission. She is way too familiar with both the political and military situation of the Federation. She would be an intelligence treasure trove of information should she break under torture.

Finally, there is the internet storm about the Tyler/Voq conspiracy. It is quite possible that this fan theory is correct. However, if the writers have gone down this path, they did not do their continuity with canon work with much care. We know from TOS, the Trouble with Tribbles that a Klingon can be modified so that one could appear human. In the story, Darvin, a staff aide to a Federation development official, has been placed as a Klingon spy to poison a grain shipment. However, his secret is blown in Act 4 when the tribbles squeak and squawk at Darvin. Since the only other time the friendly cuddly creatures reacted that way was around Klingons, everyone is suspicious. At this point, McCoy runs a quick medical scan of Darvin and announces, "Heartbeat is all wrong, his body temperature is ..... Jim, this man is a Klingon!"

Thus, if Tyler is really Voq engineered to be human, they did an incredible job. The effort would have been so good as to fool the Discovery medical team that would have examined Tyler head to toe as a victim of months of torture and possible brainwash. If the ST-DSC writers have gone down this path, they will have to "break canon" to make it work. Of course, maybe, it is all just a big head fake to drive up the fan based conspiracy machine!

Dodgers vs. Astros by the numbers

Looking at the statistics from the regular season ......

Fielding:
Dodgers 88 errors = error ever 1.84 games
Houston 99 errors = error every 1.63 games

That is not a large difference spread out over 162 games. Very slight edge to Dodgers.

Pitching (ERA):
Dodgers 3.38
Houston 4.12

ERA is probably the best metric of a pitching staff as it removes the impact of a poor fielding team. Since the fielding ability of the two clubs is pretty even, the ERA stat appears to be informative indicating a Dodger advantage on this.

However, you might think the AL with the DH means higher scoring in the AL thus they may have ERA inflation. The average number of runs in the AL was 763 runs compared to the NL 743 runs. This is only 2.7% more runs. The league ERA differential is almost non-existent (4.37 in the AL 4.34 in the NL). The differential by ERA between the Dodgers and Houston is a whopping 22%.

Thus, strong edge to the Dodgers in pitching.

However, Houston did win 101 games that made them 3rd best (Cleveland was 2nd best with 102 and Dodgers were number 1 with 104) in the MLB this year. Houston won with offense. They were #1 in 9 of the 12 sortable batting categories. The Dodgers made the top 10 in just a few of the sortable categories.

Thus, strong edge to Houston for hitting.

As such, this appear to be shaping up to be the classic match-up between a team with powerful hitting against a team with strong pitching. When an irresistible force encounters an unmovable object who wins?

If you go to the stats limiting the data to the post-season what do you see?

Houston hitting has struggled. However, they faced good pitching in the form of the Yankees and still beat them over seven games. The Red Sox had better regular season pitching than Houston and were defeated in four games.

As a lifelong Dodger fan, I am rooting for them.

As a sports fan dedicated to looking at what the number say, the advantages of each club reside in different areas of the game making predictions difficult. Houston's hitting eventually wore down the pitching advantage (relative to Houston) of the Red Sox and the Yankees. On the other hand, Dodger pitching wore down the stronger offenses (compared to the Dodgers) that Arizona and Chicago had.

Go Dodgers!






Tottenham 4 Liverpool 1


Sometimes, the other team is just better.

Of course, there can be some tactical decisions Liverpool could have taken like perhaps playing it safe for the first 15 to 30 minutes to settle into the game before opening things up. Sometimes you can start the game too amped up. But that is 20-20 hindsight.

Lovren has certainly come under a lot of criticism but he is almost certainly playing hurt. It is pretty much personnel malpractice by Liverpool to keep running a guy out there who has to take pain killers to keep playing. The club knew going into the season that fixture congestion is part of Premier League and European scheduling and should have gotten at least one center back of similar caliber to Lovren and Matip regardless of whether they could land Southampton's Virgil Van Dijk.

In the end, though LFC is called part of the so-called big 6 (Man U, Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool), it has less margin for error in the open market since they don't have the mega-budgets of the big 4 (Man U, Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal). As such, they do have to do more "moneyball" thinking and the fans have to accept the diminished expectations that come with the inability to throw money at problems.

Liverpool did spend some big money this summer on Salah and he has become a fan favorite and is a key part of the offense. The somewhat high cost (considering his meager track record) of Oxlade-Chamberlain seems a bit high for what appears to be a role player rather than first choice starter. Solanke is a young and a work in progress but looks very promising. Robertson was a modest expense and remains to be seen what his eventual role will be on the club since Moreno is still getting the lion's share of the minutes at left back.

Klopp has often said, show me a center back in the open market that is better than what we got?

Fair enough.

But might there have been center backs that were just as good as what they have that they could have gotten in the summer to step in for the inevitable injuries that will happen in a long campaign?

Klopp's managerial brother a mile away at Everton (Ronald Koeman) has been sacked for a poor start. Some hyperventilating LFC fans are calling for Klopp's ouster. Hopefully, those fans can be talked off that ledge but I suspect not. LFC isn't in such a dire situation.

They will need to do something about the defense at the January window at the very least.

How does MLS compare with other leagues?

With the increasing popularity of soccer, the team at 538 have now included their stats analysis on various leagues in world soccer.

Since teams within a continent can play across club lines in things like the Champions League or Europa League, some head-to-head comparison is possible. However, how strong is a league in one continent compared to another?

The 538 people make an attempt. Not surprisingly, traditional soccer powers and their leagues are at the top of their charts.


Looking further down, you eventually can find the MLS.


One should note that the "market value" of a league is based on salaries. By that metric, the English Premier league is highest due to "wage inflation" that is possible with the rich TV contracts they have throughout the world. The same notion of "wage inflation" is true for MLS in the USA since Designated Player salaries are probably inflated for the level of talent that is obtained.

Yet, despite the monetary strength of MLS, note the weakness of MLS in direct competition! MLS is below many lesser priced leagues including Sweden! Of course, these are based on math models. In practice MLS teams never play head-to-head with anyone outside of MLS. The only exception is MLS teams that make it to CONCACAF champions league where they usually beat everyone except Mexico Liga MX clubs.

What to make of the analysis?

In Sweden, there is only so much money available from TV contracts and funds from local fan support. Good Swedish talent eventually transfer to more lucrative salaries available in other parts of Europe. If one looks at the Swedish national team roster that are striving for a spot in the World Cup, almost all play outside of Sweden. Nonetheless, some solid talent remains in country in the club system. On average, they earn less than MLS on average.

The MLS wage structure is not a strictly free market system. There are high priced players who are Designated Players earning 7-digit salaries. Teams are limited to a maximum of three such players. The rest of the team is comprised of mid-priced players picking up 6-digit salaries and players at or just barely above the league minimum with 5-digit salaries. 

Thus, how strong would an MLS club be against second and third tier European clubs? 

The 538 data would suggest that MLS would not fare well. 

I suppose the average Swedish player is paid more than an MLS player at the league minimum?

As for talent, would those Swedish club players be comparable to the typical mid-priced MLS player? If so, it is possible that overall, a Swedish team might have more players at this level than an MLS club and thus would win in a head-to-head match? Or would those 3 Designated Players push an MLS club over a Swedish club in an on-the-field match-up?

Who knows!?


The life of a sports fan - victory or misery!

Been crazy busy. However, still keep my ears and eyes open to the soccer teams I follow.

USMNT - if you can't get a victory or a draw against Trinidad Tobago you don't deserve to go to the World Cup. The men's side of US Soccer is in sackcloth and ashes with calls for sackings. Coach Arena within a matter of days resigned. The question now is whether more changes will occur and what changes would be most helpful to improve the program. The major criticism I have heard is that the team simply didn't play as a team with any sense of urgency. They thought they would just roll the ball out onto the field and show up and win. Once they realized they were in a real match and having to play catch up the team just didn't have the mentality to recover. The other observation is the "missing generation" hypothesis. USMNT has relied on that group that came to prominence about a decade ago with Donovan, Howard, Dempsey, Bradley, and others. This group is now running out of gas as time has caught up with them. Unfortunately, the group that is now in their 20s doesn't appear to have the right stuff to take their place. I will now be rooting for Sweden to upset Italy to gain spot in the World Cup.

Elfsborg - they are bottom half of the table. It has been a tough year. The manager, Magnus Haglund, has been sacked. Barring losing every game and someone below them winning every game, they should avoid relegation. But beyond the team is playing for spots in next seasons roster.

Falkenberg - they made a run at the third spot and a place in the promotion playoff but they have since slipped back to fifth. They started the season poorly in the relegation zone for several weeks but slowly creeped up the table reaching third for one week. Will see if they can make a run at promotion next season.

LA Galaxy - they are currently last in MLS with one game to go. Its been a rough season with clubhouse tensions, injuries to key players, and far more defeats than expected. The question for the brain trust is who is going to get sacked in the front office and which players on the roster will be retained. Might Cole get one more year at left back? Will they be able to lay down the curse of right back injuries and find someone who will survive and thrive in that position? Which of their many midfielders (Jones, Pedro, Husidic, Lleget, Boetang) will stay and which will go? We assume the three DPs are "untouchable?" Which of the three goalkeepers will stay and which will go?

Liverpool - they put a lot of shots up but they don't get them in the net and losing Mane to injury makes that even more challenging for them. There have been many draws where they had the lion's share of possession and opportunities and the defense surrendered soft goals. Big win against Maribor with seven goals! Perhaps, that will restore their confidence. On the other hand, it could be that Maribor is simply not very good. Big match this weekend against Tottenham!

Meanwhile, in baseball, Go DODGERS!

It has been a long time since 1988 when they last climbed to the top of the MLB mountain. Two times against the Phillies they were at the short end of a 4-1 NLCS. Two times against the Cards they were at the short end of a 4-2 NLCS. Last year, they were at the short end of a 4-2 NLCS against the Cubs. But this year, they knocked out Arizona in three straight and have gained a 3-0 lead over the Cubs. Let's finish this thing and advance!

Go DODGERS!

Star Trek Discovery episodes 1-4

Yes, I am a Star Trek fan.

I’ve seen all the movies. I’ve seen most if not all the episodes of all the flavors of the show. Therefore, when CBS decided to launch the latest edition of Star Trek on their streaming service, I signed up.

My impressions thus far after 4 episodes: production values are very high, characterizations show great potential, story line is wait and see what they will make of it since it is serialized storytelling.

(spoilers ahead) 

Episode 1 begins with the “4th act” of a previous episode that has Burnham and Georgiou bantering while going about saving an indigenous species by restoring their water supply. Hard core Trek fans might cry foul as it would be a violation of the Prime Directive. However, in various flavors of the show, the Prime Directive rule was often set aside in these kinds of situations. Clearly, the writers wanted to establish a mentor/mother figure in Georgiou which they did well.

Enjoyed the opening title sequence and music!

In the episode 1-2 story package, they also introduced us to the lively relationship between Burnham, Georgiou and Saru. I think they did a fine job here as well and sadly I wonder if this is a missed opportunity to have built the show around that relationship?

Burnham’s crisis quickly arrives as she makes the decision to take matters into her own hands in trying to get the first shot at the Klingons. Some critics have felt this was way too abrupt. She is human trained in the way of Vulcans so she may have in some ways the best of both worlds and the worst of both worlds. Nonetheless, we have to recall Vulcan’s can be very determined about a course of action once they are convinced of its correctness. Think of Spock’s actions in TOS episodes: The Menagerie, The Galileo Seven, Paradise Syndrome, and The Tholian Web and in TNG episode Unification. Also, recall Tuvok in Prime Factors. Lastly, in the entire series run of Enterprise, we find the Vulcans quite pragmatic in their diplomatic relations. As such, I’m willing to grant this premise to set in motion Burnham’s story journey into episodes 3 and beyond.

The attempt to capture T’Kuvma was not consistent with what we know about the Klingon warrior ethos. They believe dying in battle is honorable and to be captured a dishonor. Thus, the rationale used for this ill-fated mission to use his capture as a bargaining chip would not be sufficient grounds to get the Klingon’s to negotiate.

In episode 3 we are introduced to the Discovery and a new set of characters. We shall see if the triangle of Lorca, Saru, and Burnham will be a good one. Certainly, as I had mentioned, the Burnham, Georgiou and Saru could have been good to build a show upon.

Tilly as a character has great potential though I thought they may have overplayed her wide-eyed enthusiasm a bit too much.

The “spore drive” concept seems a bit much. Science fiction by nature has to resort to deus ex machina to some extent. But this new way to travel in this episode was invoked in rapid succession (1) spores as tying into the fabric of the universe allowing near instantaneous travel (2) the unusual tardigrade that can interact with the spore/network and (3) the invention of a device that can tap into the mind of the tardigrade and control its actions and (4) that this could be connected to the Discover and Glenn starships.

The plot point of having T’Kuvma ship be stalled out and needing to steal the Shenzou’s dilithium converter to get repaired was sloppy plot planning by the writers. The writers had established that the Federation does destroy its technology to avoid losing it by destroying the Glenn (episode 3) when it had its malfunction. The Federation would have scuttled any and all of the abandoned vessels lost in the Battle of the Binary Stars (episode 2).

The killing off of Landry was another sloppy plot twist by the writers. Yes, you want to establish that major (or potentially major) characters can get killed off but these should happen within the plausible structure of the characters and the plot line. Landry is a high ranking officer and would probably not act in such an ill considered manner.

Anyway, we shall see what future episodes bring! Perhaps, more commentary is ahead?

Heading into the October international break

LA Galaxy have dropped two in a row and in both cases their defense was the culprit. As a result, they go into the MLS playoffs in fifth pla...