What I Learned – Playing Putt-Putt with Chad Marshall

(This post is part of the continuing series called, “What I Learned.” In this series, I keep track of things that sparked my brain during different events and experiences.)

I’ve long said that the Seattle Sounders do more smart things for their fans and supporters than any team I’ve ever run across. Last week, they held a small event, hosting a pub night at a local bar near the stadium. The bar features a 9 hole indoor putt-pitt course, and as luck would have it, I got to play mini-golf with Sounders CB Chad Marshall and LM Aaron Kovar.

Both guys were great. Marshall was drinking a beer, and talking about golf and his 2 year old kid. Kovar is a friendly kid who looks like a guy you’d sit next to on a bus, going to his job at Amazon.
Of course, I didn’t think of anything really good to ask them until I was already home, but I did learn one thing. We talked a little about language barriers and how the team deals with that in training. Marshall admitted it’s a real problem for teams. Each team has interpreters on staff to translate what the coaches are saying in terms of strategy and game plans. But on the field for example, some players only speak Spanish, one only speaks French, and some – including the Goalkeeper – only speak English. So when a team is defending free kicks, basically the only words they can say to each other are “left, right, and back.”
My takeaway – whenever you see a goal scored from a free kick, especially if someone lost their mark, there was probably some sort of miscommunication between guys who speak different languages. I can only imagine what it must be like in Eurpoean leagues.

Some Fun Trivia to Celebrate Mariners Opening Day

It’s the home opener of our favorite hometown 9, the Seattle Mariners. So let’s take a nostalgic trip down memory lane and review some stats and trivia since the day the Mariners were bounced from the last playoff game in which they participated, October 22, 2001.

Things that did not exist the last time the Mariners were in the playoffs:

  • Xbox (launched 11/15/01), Century Link Field (2002), Facebook, Instagram, iPhone, Amazon Web Services, Seattle Sounders, Oklahoma City Thunder, Tesla, Uber, Snapchat, Link Light Rail.

Notable stats from October 2001:

  • U.S. President: George W Bush
  • 2001 U.S. House of Representatives: Democrats 213, Republicans 220
  • 2001 U.S. Senate: Democrats 50, Republicans 49, Independent 1
  • 2001 Seattle Mayor: Paul Schell through November, then Greg Nickels elected
  • 2001 Washington Governor: Gary Locke
  • 2002 Oscars (for movies produced in 2001):  Best Picture: A Beautiful Mind | Best Actor: Denzel Washington (Training Day) | Best Actress: Halle Berry (Monsters Ball)
  • Top 10 TV shows, 2001-2002 season: Friends, CSI, ER, Everybody Loves Raymond, Law & Order, Survivor, Monday Night Football, The West Wing, Will & Grace, Leap of Faith
  • 2002 Grammy Awards (for songs produced in 2001):  Song of the year: Fallin, by Alicia Keys | Record of the year: Walk On, by U2 | Album of the year: O Brother Where Art Thou Soundtrack
  • 10 Richest People in the World: Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Karl and Theo Albrecht, Paul Allen, Larry Ellis, 5 heirs to Sam Walton – Jim, John, Alice, S Robson, Helen

Sports Champions since the day the Mariners lost in 2001:

  • World Series winners: Arizona, Anaheim, Florida, Boston (3),  Chicago White Sox, St. Louis (2), Philadelphia, New York Yankees, San Francisco (3), Kansas City, Chicago Cubs.
  • Super Bowl winners: New England (5), Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh (2), Indianapolis, New York Giants (2), New Orleans, Green Bay, Baltimore, Seattle (YAY!), Denver
  • NBA Champions: Who cares, the league ceased existing to me in 2008.

Statistical Points of Interest:

  • Seattle Population:  2001 – 570k | 2013 – 652k
  • Cost of Super Bowl Ad: 2001 – $2.2 million  | 2017 –  $5.0 million
  • Internet Advertising Revenue: 2001 – $7.2 Billion | 2015 – $59.6 Billion

Meet Your New 2017 Sounders

The MLS season is a long one, running a full 9 months from early March to early December. So before the ink was even dry on the papers forever documenting the 2016 Sounders MLS Cup win, the wheels of progress were underway to form the 2017 version. Many of the players who played a decent sized role in the title run found themselves trading their Rave Green uniforms for flights back to their home countries. Meanwhile, a new set of Sounders filled out change of address forms, and made plans to move to Seattle.

Here’s a quick snapshot of the turnstyle over the last 3 months. (For a full review, read this article from SounderAtHeart.)

Who’s Out?

The MLS has some pretty onerous salary cap rules. Add in 2 new expansion teams this year in Minnesota and Atlanta, and it makes it hard to keep a team together. Here are the 18 names you won’t see wearing a Sounders uniform this year:

  • Nelson Valdez (released because he was too expensive and signed with a team in Paraguay)
  • Tyrone Mears (released and signed by Atlanta)
  • Dylan Remick (released and redrafted by Houston)
  • Erik Friberg (released and signed by a team in Sweden)
  • Andreas Ivanschitz (released and signed by a team in the Czech league)
  • Zack Scott (retired)
  • Herculez Gomez (retired)
  • Some guys you may or may not recognize were also released and signed with minor league teams (or retired): Darwin Jones, Charlie Lyon, Jimmy Ockford, Victor Mansaray (loaned out) Michael Farfan (retired), Nathan Sturgis (still unsigned), Oalex Anderson (still unsigned)

Who’s New?

New Sounders are often guys we’ve never heard of. So, for these 8 new players, I’m sharing the 0-100 ratings the video game FIFA 2017 gives them.

  • Clint Dempsey, F, (Back from Disabled List): 80
  • Gustav Svensson Mid, / Def (from Sweden and Chinese League): 72
  • Will Bruin, F, (from Houston): 69
  • Harry Shipp, Mid, (from Montreal): 68
  • Bryan Meredith, GK, (from San Jose): 61
  • Nouhou Tolo, Def, (Sounders 2): NR
  • Henry Wingo, Mid, / Def (Homegrown): NR
  • Seyi Adekoya, F, (Homegrown): NR

Who’s Back:

Check and make sure your favorite players are still here. Just 14 remain from the team that won in Toronto, but 9 of them started that night.

  • Tony Alfaro, Def: 62
  • Osvaldo Alonso, Mid: 79
  • Brad Evans, Def / Mid: 70
  • Alvaro Fernandez, Mid:  70
  • Oniel Fisher, Def: 61
  • Stefan Frei, GK: 73
  • Joevin Jones, Def: 66
  • Aaron Kovar, Mid: 62
  • Nicolas Lodeiro, Mid: 78
  • Chad Marshall, Def: 74
  • Tyler Millar, GK: 58
  • Jordan Morris, For / Mid: 68
  • Cristian Roldan, Mid: 65
  • Roman Torres, Def: 72

Now I’m no math genius, but if you lose 18 players and add 8, you should still have some roster space available. In fact, an MLS team can carry 28 players on their roster at one time, so since the Sounders only have 22 on the current sheet, logic dictates you’ll see 4-6 more players either get signed from Sounders 2, or come in a late transfer window signing. The primary MLS transfer window runs from Feb 18 – May 11.  Then, the secondary one opens from July 10 – August 9.

The Sounders still do have one ‘Designated Player” spot available, meaning they can essentially sign a player for any amount of money they want and not have it hit the salary cap. (Dempsey and Lodeiro are the other two. Valdez was the 3rd, so they cut him to get that Designated Player spot back.)

So there you go; that’s your 2017 Sounders squad. See you at Century Link.

A Conspiracy Theorist’s Predictions for the 2017 NFL Playoffs

We all know the NFL playoffs aren’t rigged. But if they WERE being written by a team of storytellers in New York, here’s how it would go down.

Houston: No NFL team has ever won a Super Bowl in the year their city hosted the game. The host city needs the tourist revenue. So no Houston this year. 1st round out.

Oakland: Their QB is out so they should have no chance. BUT, that wasn’t supposed to happen. The NFL needs the Raiders to become America’s favorite team so that either Oakland or Las Vegas will build them a new Billion Dollar stadium. Oakland is going to the Super Bowl behind a rookie QB who has never started an NFL game. Cinderella plus history + need for stadium = NFL preference.

Seattle: This is a tough one. The NFL finally had a team full of interesting characters a few years ago. Richard, Marshawn, Earl, Russell, Kam, and everyone’s favorite grandpa coaching them. But then something happened and the storytellers saw their characters go off script. Beast Mode quit, the goody-two-shoes QB married 50 Cent’s ex, Earl got hurt and spoke of retirement, Sherman seems to have lost his cool. This isn’t a team the NFL loves anymore. This is the team that goes down inexplicably this year.

Detroit: The Cavaliers, Cubs, Indians, Donald Trump… notice a trend? The world is conspiring to provide some relief to the Rust Belt. Detroit gets a cinderella win this year, even though they stink.

Miami: No one cares about the Dolphins, including Miami. If a team loses a playoff game and no one in the city notices, did they actually lose? Doesn’t matter. 1st round out.

Pittsburgh: I’m pretty sure the Rooneys and Maras have a deal with the NFL that one of them gets to win the Super Bowl every 4-5 years. They also fit well into the Rust Belt conversation. I see them to the AFC Championship where they do what is best for the league and lose to Oakland.

Giants: The Giants vs Cowboys rivalry is going to be THE rivalry for the next 3 years. But it starts in earnest next year. This year is the appetizer where we learn how important the regular season will be to each team. The Cowboys get a bye, the Giants go down in the best game of the 1st round. OR, they win a few games and end up losing to Dallas in the NFC Championship where home field matters. This is a tough one.

Green Bay: Is it the end of an era? Or is this the transition year where Aaron Rodgers gets a new cast of characters to make great? Once Tom Brady is gone, Aaron Rodgers will have another 5-7 years. I think Green Bay gets a win but goes on a Super Bowl drought until Rodgers’ final year when he gets to have his Peyton Manning Swan Song. OR, they have to bow to New York and let the Giants vs Cowboys NFC Championship game take shape.

New England: Every year, they could be the team that wins it all. They’re the guys you know will get there one or two of every three years. And this year they are simply going to need to take one for the league and let Oakland get to the Super Bowl. It’s just good business sense to let Oakland beat them.

Kansas City: Blah. No one outside of Kansas City cares about Kansas City. A league that saw TV ratings go down this year needs a HUGE Championship weekend and Super Bowl. Neither of those lead to Kansas City success. Out as soon as possible.

Atlanta: The Falcons have managed to get tax payer money to get a new stadium built. That was rewarded with a trip to the playoffs. But the idea of Aaron Rodgers vs Dak Prescott is too good to pass up.

Dallas: GOD the NFL needed Dallas this year. It’s a ratings bonanza. Kids love Dak and Zeke. Old guys love Dez and Whiten. This is NFL gold. Pencil them in to go all the way to the Super Bowl.

Round 1:

AFC: Oakland (5) over Houston (4) and Pittsburgh (3) over Miami (6)

NFC: Detroit (6) over Seattle (3) and Green Bay (4) over New York (5) (or vice versa)

Round 2:

AFC: Oakland (5) over New England (1) and Pittsburgh (3) over Kansas City (2)

NFC: Dallas (1) over Detroit (6) and Green Bay or New York (4 or 5) over Atlanta (2)

Championship Round:

AFC: Oakland (5) over Pittsburgh (3) in a classic AFL battle that makes the old people happy.

NFC: Dallas (1) over Green Bay or New York (4 or 5) in a classic NFL battle that makes old and new young people happy.

Super Bowl: TBD.

 

My Unsolicited Opinions on the College Football Playoff

In no particular order…

  1. There’s an irony that we’re arguing about whether we need 2, 4 or 8 teams for a proper playoff. If this was the old days, Alabama would go win the Sugar Bowl, finish 14-0, and there wouldn’t be a discussion about it.
  2. You can’t make Conference Championships part of the parameters for making the College Football Playoff if the Conference Championship criteria is based on arbitrary regional divisions. Get rid of the divisions and have the best 2 teams in the conference play for the title. Otherwise the designation is just ceremonial.
  3. In the world of, “Things that would never happen,” I would actually prefer that all of the Conferences be constrained to 10 teams (taking us back to a Power 6) and that each Conference had a schedule where everyone played each other. Then you don’t need a meaningless Conference championship game because…
  4. …By the way, did anyone else notice that no one attended the Conference Championship games? Stadiums were 1/2 empty.
  5. So if you didn’t need Conference Championship games anymore, that weekend would be your 1st round of the 8 team playoff. 6 Conference Champions and 2 wild cards. Now that would be a fun weekend of football.

Ok, so if you implemented my plan, your top 8 this year would be something like: 1) Alabama (SEC champ)    2) Clemson (ACC champ)   3) Washington (PAC 12 champ)   4) Penn St  (Big 10 champ)   5) Oklahoma (Big 12 Champ)    6) Someone like Louisville, Pittsburgh, etc… (Champ of the new Big East)   7) Ohio St (Wild Card)    8) Michigan (Wild card).

Winners go on to the New Years Eve Final 4. Losers get to play in the other New Years 6.

Now that’d been an entertaining round of football. Once it was re-seeded, that weekend would have been fun to watch. Way better than having to slog through Florida, Colorado or Wisconsin posing their way in fake Championship games.

But again, no one asked me. So at least we get 4 really good teams. That’s better than nothing. Unless you are Penn St or Michigan…

A Possible Answer to Why NFL TV Ratings are Down

It’s being well documents that the NFL’s TV ratings are down. There are hundreds of explanations, from the poorer quality of play, a general disgust for the Commissioner, a weariness of all the concussions and injuries, or even backlash at the National Anthem protests. I’ll throw my supposition on the list – Fantasy Football.

I posit that the growth of Fantasy Football caused people who normally wouldn’t tune into a Jacksonville vs Cleveland debacle, got sucked into a few games to see what their QB or WR looked like in real life. The NFL had stars like Dez Bryant, Russell Wilson, Arian Foster, Marshawn Lynch and more. Guys who were on your fantasy team and were guaranteed to score a touchdown or do something cool every game.

But the game evolved. Teams stopped feeding running backs the ball 35 times a game. Instead of having one or two studs to watch on every team, coaches started implementing systems of running back by committee. Plus, wide receivers get hurt every week. Your average fan can’t keep track of the 2nd string tailback and 4th WR for the Lions.

So Fantasy Football becomes less interesting because your lineup has a bunch of guys you don’t care about. And then you add all the other reasons not to watch football, and you realize that there are a lot of other things to do on Sunday. And Thursday. And Monday. And whenever else the NFL is trying to cram a game down my eye sockets.

So too much football on TV + lower quality football + players no one cares about + a decline in the reason new people were watching other teams in the first place = apathy and depressed ratings. It will be interesting to see how the NFL responds.

Totally Unfounded Speculation About Alex Rodriguez

There is almost zero percent chance that this hypothesis is accurate. But suppose…

  • Rather than release him outright, the Yankees offered Alex Rodriguez the role of “Special Advisor” because they could make sure the contract he signed and the $20+ million they still owe him would be contingent on him actually being a Yankee Special Advisor.
  • So in order for him to go play for another team, he would have to negotiate an end to his current contract, since he is now contracted to be a Yankees Special Advisor until the end of 2017.
  • Remember, the Yankees cut him at 696 home runs, BUT instead of waiting until the end of the year, they left him with enough time in the season to get 4 more HR’s to get to 700.
  • So, maybe they specifically did that so some team out of the playoff race would try to sign him on the cheap for the marketing exposure of his chase to 700.
  • And if another team does want him for that purpose, there’s no way a guy wth his pride and ego would turn down the chance to join the 700 club.
  • So then the Yankees could either choose to keep him from playing for another team, or make him cancel the remaining salary he is owed.
  • And then he would have to choose what is more important… $20+ million more dollars on top of the $500 million he’s earned, or the chance to get 4 more HR’s and join a really exclusive club.

Maybe… well played Yankees?

A Few Thoughts About Sigi Schmid

It’s the end of an era. Quite literally.

The Seattle Sounders have only known one head coach in all their days. Through 250 MLS matches, a host of playoff games and some lengthy runs through the U.S. Open Cup and Champions League, Sigi Schmid has been the only man driving the bus. And now that ride has ended.

While Sigi was alone in compiling 115 wins, 69 losses and 66 draws from 2009-1016, the Seattle Mariners are now on a 5th manager to pull them out of their 573-660 streak.

Sigi will get criticism for not winning the MLS Cup, a compliant that seemed to heat up after the Seahawks got their ring three Super Bowls ago. And the cry of, “Well we’re still an expansion team” fell on deaf ears as soon as the hatred Portland Timbers raised the cup ahead of the Sounders. At that point, the knives were out.

But Is 2016 Sigi’s Fault?

The Sounders had a run of bad luck last year that stretched them thin, so they stocked up on some guys who were supposed to plug the holes and then provide depth in 2016. At this time this year, here is what the Sounders lineup was “supposed” to look like:

Forwards: Starters: Obafemi Martins, Dempsey, Valdez. Bench: Jordan Morris.
Mids: Alonso, Evans, Ivanschitz. Bench: Kovar, Roldan, Friberg.
Def: Mears, Torres, Marshall, Jones. Bench: Scott, Remick.

Instead, Torres is hurt and Martins is sitting on a bench in China. Dempsey missed a month on National team duty. The Sounders were trotting out a lineup of role players and hoping Jordan Morris could dramatically exceed any reasonable expectation of a rookie. Evans got shoved back to defense and couldn’t contribute on offense. When Dempsey was here, he had no one to pass to. The team was so slow that defenses could push high up the field and pressure guys like Scott into turning it over in front of goal.

A lot of things went wrong this year, and I’m not sure if any coach could make that lineup work. The Sigi detractors have a fair point – that with the players we ended up with, he stubbornly stuck to a formation that didn’t seem to fit them. It’s really a double edged sword. If he was switching formations every few games (the way we all would playing FIFA on XBox) and it didn’t work, we’d be yelling about that.

And so that leaves Sounderland in a little bit of a quandary. Sigi was “our guy” from the get go. Adrian is “our guy.” GM Garth Lagerway is a Real Salt Lake guy. “Our guy” took a fall because the coaching staff and management team couldn’t get results in 2016 with the product they put together. Now we have to trust in Lagerway to find the right players and the right coach.

I’ll miss Sigi. I’ll miss wondering how a guy who spends every day on a soccer field and eating meals specially prepared by a scientific driven training team could possibly weigh in at 3 bills. I’ll miss standing behind the bench trying to figure out what crazy substitution is coming next.

But this is a reminder that nothing lasts forever. The storybook start to the Sounders franchise, with Sigi leading us to a 3-1 win over New York, still hasn’t had the magical payoff moment we’ve been waiting for. I hope it comes soon enough that Schmid’s fingerprints are still on the team. I hope we get to see Brad Evans and Ozzie Alonso lift a cup and we can remember Sigi’s original influence.

So long sir. I feel lucky that we had you take the reins at the beginning and lead us to where we are today. Best of luck in whatever challenge you take on next.

What I Learned from Copa America Centenario

A few quick takeaways from what was a pretty cool tournament.

1) South American soccer is more fun than European soccer:
Sure, the Germans have technical skill that is fun to watch. But if you gave me the choice to randomly select two South American teams or two European teams to watch play, I’d choose the South Americans every time. With the exception of Bolivia, who played a 4-4-1 with their 11th guy being Messi’s shadow, the South American teams came out attacking. The irony is that they can do so because the good ones have such strong defenses that they can send an extra guy forward. As much as I love the Iceland story, even they play 10 guys deep and hope to get lucky on a long throw or corner kick.
Arg vs Bol

2) Argentina was just a superior team to see live:
Chile’s defense must be fantastic, because I don’t know how they shut Argentina down. Granted, when I saw them live they were facing an overmatched Bolivian team, but I think the result would have been the same against Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador or Columbia. They are so technically proficient with the ball, and can deliver pin-point passes from anywhere on the field. Their fullbacks are giants who can dribble and pass as well as U.S. forwards. Even their little guys are strong. And their 1st touch always seems to be placed in a direction that is away from a defender. You didn’t have to understand soccer to appreciate what they can do.
Messi

3) FIFA, Concacaf and Conmebol made a quick cash grab:
Great tournament, yes. But tickets were so expensive, that it turned into something I would like to attend and see once every 8-12 years or so. It was a shame that they priced families out of the market. I wouldn’t have dropped $600 to bring a family of 4 to see Peru vs Haiti. In a world where variable pricing is so easy to implement, I think they dropped the ball for the sake of trying to get as much up front cash as possible, since they forced you to buy tickets before the schedule came out. Then, they only sold tickets on one side of the stadium, so on TV it looked like there were more people in attendance.
Empty West Stands

4) The USMNT is probably right where they should be:
The U.S. benefited by Brazil and Uruguay not really showing for Copa America, and that probably lifted them from a loss in the round of 8 to a semi-final shot against a much superior Argentina squad. If they were in the Euros instead, I could probably name 6-8 teams who the U.S. should lose to, 6-8 they should beat, and a few that they’d probably just go 0-0 with. We have some good young speed and a decent defense, but no go-to scorer. If you are going to go into a tournament with those attributes, you can’t make mistakes – like handballs in the box, needlessly accumulating useless yellow cards or lashing out for stupid reds. If there’s one thing I can blame a coach for, it’s a lack of player discipline. Those careless mistakes need to get hammered out of players if you want to beat a team from Pot 1 or Pot 2 in a 2018 World Cup Match.

USMNT Wins

5) USMNT fans are a lot of fun:
The costumes, the flags, the cheers – the U.S. game had a fantastic atmosphere about it. Maybe it was because we were playing at home, but I’m glad we have joyous and positive fans, not thugs and brutes.

US Fans

On Culture and Chemistry

I heard an interesting interview with Mariners Manager Scott Servais last week. He discussed some of the differences between this year’s team and last year’s, especially when it came to how the players acted in the dugout and clubhouse.

Servais brought up a distinction I hadn’t thought about before, the difference between Culture and Chemistry. I’m going to paraphrase some of his comments, because they make sense to bring into a corporate or start-up environment.

To summarize, “Culture” is the foundation of the organization. It’s embodies the mission your organization is on, the processes and programs you implement and the latitude people have as individuals inside the system. “Chemistry” is how everyone gets along with one another – peer to peer, manager to employee, employee to manager.

So with those definitions in mind, here are some insights he brought forward.

1) Not everyone has to get along, but they all need to be bought in: A culture can’t just be dropped into place from above. It’s going to be started by someone, adopted, and expanded. The Mariners culture isn’t as simplified as, “We always want to win.” From an in-game perspective, it’s focused on, “We’re going to own the strike zone, on offense and defense.” Every member of that team knows that the team philosophy is about owning the strike zone. A guy from Korea and one from Venezuela don’t have to have anything else in common. But as long as they know the process that the organization has designed, and they both contribute to the process, then the culture will be strong. If you don’t believe in the process, then you are a bad cultural fit, and it’s better for both parties to have you move on.

2) You can have great Chemistry and deliver a lousy product: Having everyone love each other is great. But if your team enjoys 2 hour lunches with each other and 4pm happy hours, your culture of laziness and good times isn’t going to net you much success.

3) You can generally define a good Culture in few words: In the case of the Seahawks, the culture is simple – “Always Compete.” You know that whether you are Russel Wilson or a walk-on free agent, you are there to battle for a roster spot, bigger salary, and field time. There’s no gray area for interpretation. If you are going to be a Seahawk, you have a mindset that you will have to win anything you get. You know the guy behind you on the depth chart is trying to take your job. You are only going to continue being a contributing member of the organization for as long as you can outperform everyone else at the job you do. There are no bonus points for tenure. Experience just means you should be able to do the job better, faster and thus be able to do more.

I think you can find the interview on the 710Sports.com web page. Would love to know if you took away any other insights.