Joel Lindpere

Fighting regression: Theories why McInerney, Magee can keep up their rates

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Among the three-way tie atop the league’s scoring charts, Marco Di Vaio’s name stands out. He’s the one established sniper, and although his goal rate was down over his last days in Italy and his initial arrival in Montréal, many picked the Bologna icon to have this type of effect when he arrived in North America. Through 13 starts this season with the Impact, the 36-year-old has 10 goals.

Jack McInerney, however, was mostly promise coming into the season, while Mike Magee was an established workhorse. Back in February, nobody picked either to challenge atop the league’s scoring charts. That we inch toward July with each challenging Di Vaio is surprising, with many expecting the duo to regress from their current rates.

This isn’t a law of averages thing. It’s not about things evening out. It’s about assessing capabilities. Is Jack McInerney really somebody who’s a two-in-three type of scorer right now? If you think so, then his current standing shouldn’t surprise you. And is Mike Magee really a player who, for the first time in his career, can get you three or four goals a month? That one seems harder to sell.

There are, however, reasons to believe each could sustain a high goal rate. Perhaps two-in-three is too much, but with changes each player has experienced in their club surroundings, it becomes easier to explain improvement over their previous totals.

Let’s start in Philadelphia, where a hot four months has Jack McInerney in the Gold Cup picture. His early returns, however, were based on a shots-on-goal conversation rate of over 50 percent. Whether it was especially good chances or improbably good finishing, the numbers said McInerney would slow up.

Now those numbers have slipped, down to 43.4 percent, yet JackMac is still atop the scoring charts. The reason may be something more sustainable. As Goal.com’s Keith Hickey describes at the end of his recent Union feature, the connection between McInerney and his head coach, John Hackworth, may be a factor, with the man who oversaw some of his training at Bradenton showing new confidence in the 20-year-old:

Hackworth oversaw McInerney as a high-schooler at Bradenton, was instrumental in drafting him as a Union player in 2010, and has built a bond that has been rewarded on the field. The key to unlocking the potential of his star striker it seems, is trust …

“Trust is not something you can develop with a conversation or in a short amount of time. It takes some time. I think there’s a reason that some players on this team and our staff have that level of trust. It’s because we, through different teams or situations, interacted with each other and had built up a lot of that trust… Jack is obviously an example of that and doing very well.”

McInerney’s conversation rate is regressing, but he’s also being used better than he was under Peter Nowak. That means more confidence, more chances, and a better chance of maintaining his goal rate.

Mike Magee’s situation has some similarities. Though his previous coach, Bruce Arena, didn’t lack for confidence in former Galaxy man, he was never seen as somebody to rely on for goals. (Oh, the luxuries of being a team with Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan.) Yet in Chicago, he’s immediately been installed as the focal point in attack, playing ahead of players like Chris Rolfe, Daniel Paladini, and Joel Lindpere – players who can create chances for him.

Put simply: All of Magee’s career numbers were accrued as a complementary player. Now, he’s the main man. Is he really that type of player? Somebody with skills to justify installing him as a focal point? In this discussion, it doesn’t matter. He’s certain to get more and better chances to score goals in his current job than he’s had at any other point in his career.

Their current rates will be near-impossible to maintain, but there’s reason to believe McInerney and Magee’s regressions won’t be as steep as their pasts suggest. There are narratives to support their newfound production.

More MLS salary talk: Three teams collecting bad deals

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Salary Day around Major League Soccer – let’s find a mainstream sports parallel. Because that’s how these things work, right? Some esoteric event with limited significance that winds up fans and sends them spinning on kitchen floors. The only way to convey its meaning is by looking to the big four. I know how this works.

Let see …It’s the 5×5 rotisserie draft, right? No, not quite right. The salaries are real. Fantasy leagues aren’t. How about the cover announcement for your given EA Sports franchise? Meh, way too far from the field. Really, it’s more like pitchers and catchers reporting, or final cut day for NFL rosters. It has some significance, but if we never heard one peep about it, our sporting lives would change … not at all.

Perhaps the best parallel is Schedule Day in the National Football League. Most of the information is known ahead of time – MLS’s deals either already leaked or carry over from the year before, while the NFL’s matchups are predetermined by a formula – but something about seeing all the details together sends fans buzzing like their favorite band just released another album (and since this is MLS, that album would either be Wilco’s or the dialog track from an Arrested Development rerun). The order of the games, Monday night slots, Thanksgiving assignments – they give football fans something to fill that offseason void. It’s the morning donut – fun, harmless, inconsequentially unless you overindulge.

For MLS fans, the players union’s release sparks a few hours of fervent social media analysis, where “Broncos play Cowboys on Thanksgiving” is replaced by “this sure looks different without Beckham and Marquez.” That Week 17 matchup between Green Bay and Minnesota? Where Adrian Peterson might be going for 2,105 and a playoff spot? That’s MLS fans and their value-for-money finds. “So Rafael Baca only makes $49,500 but Joel Lindpere’s still a $200,000 player?”

[MORE: Major League Soccer’s top earners]

He does, but in insolation, that’s mostly trivia. One good or bad signing isn’t going to break a salary cap, especially when the maximum most players can count against the salary cap is limited by the designated player rule. If, however, you start collecting a bunch of Baca-esque deals? They you’ve really got something. The dollar shaved here, shaved there give you the ability to take some chances, overpay for a project, or take on some players whose veteran rates no longer fit into others’ budgets. You don’t have to be Billy Beane to figure this out.

We’ll look at some of those situations later. Here I want to look at the other end of the spectrum – teams who have a number of deals which, while perhaps not bad in isolation (though there are some there), become problematic when they’re part of a greater pattern.

Some caveats here: Some of these deals might be Designated Player contracts, young designated players, Generation adidas, or another of an array of circumstances that means their full salaries may not count against the cap (or, are even being fully covered by their current team). Still, in a league were very few teams are making money, taking on even “off book” salaries can have a huge effect on a team’s ability to go out and acquire more talent.

[MORE: Some Major League Soccer bargains]

With that in mind, here are a few situations you’d like to see your team avoid:

(all salary figures reflect guaranteed compensation)

source:  Chicago Fire

  • Sherjill MacDonald, $527,125
  • Arne Friedrich, $367,500
  • Dily Duka, $273,000
  • Patrick Nyarko, $249,500
  • Joel Lindpere, $205,000
  • Logan Pause, $197,833.33

Also:

  • Alvaro Fernandez, on six-month loan in Qatar, $366,666.67

Again, in isolation, none of these deals are killers, but when you have six players making above-or-around $200,000 who aren’t giving equivalent production, that’s a symptom as much as it is a problem, especially since Duka and Lindpere were added this winter (as were Jeff Larentowicz and Maicon Santos, who combine to make just over $395,000).

Friedrich can’t stay healthy. Duka cost Chicago Dominic Oduro. Nyarko is immensely capable but has 12 goals in five-plus seasons. We have to start considering if Lindpere’s best days are permanently gone, while Pause was made redundant by the Fire’s offseason moves.

Between those six players, that’s just over $1.8 million in salaries. And Fernandez’s loan expires this summer.

source:  Colorado Rapids

  • Marvell Wynne, $285,000
  • Edson Buddle, $275,000
  • Drew Moor, $247,000
  • Pablo Mastroeni, $200,000
  • Atiba Harris, $173,275
  • Danny Mwanga, $171,250
  • Brian Mullan, $170,335

The four guys who were in Commerce City last year – Wynne, Moor, Mastroeni, and Mullan – are just kind of overpaid. Really, it’s not a big deal when you’re being shrew elsewhere. When you’re getting value lower down the list, you can be sentimental with your veterans – understood.

But Buddle? Harris? Mwanga? Colorado went out and got these guys this offseason. You can see the upside in each of them, but having combined for two goals through the Rapids’ first 10 games, you have to wonder if that $600,000 would have been better spent elsewhere.

Consider some of the other goal scorers that moved this offseason: Ryan Johnson ($144,705), Claudio Bieler ($200,000), Fabian Espindola ($150,000), Robert Earnshaw ($155,150). Buddle, Harris, and Mwanga, for similar money, were much less reliable options. Even Kenny Cooper ($342,500) could have been had for some of the money Colorado spent on their upgrades.

source:  D.C. United

  • Dejan Jakovic, $303,341
  • Rafael, $284,625
  • Brandon MacDonald, $273,250
  • Lionard Pajoy, $205,000
  • John Thorrington, $150,000
  • James Riley, $145,000

The disturbing part about this group is that they were all need signings, to one extent or another. On one hand, yeah, when a team needs somebody, of course the sign a new player, yet with this group, we see a tendency to overpay when addressing those needs. That’s a systemic problem.

A couple of years ago, D.C. United’s defense was terrible. They elected to keep an expensive Jakovic and acquire MacDonald. They now have one of the priciest central pairings in the league, even if few would call the duo one of the league’s best.

Pajoy and Rafael were brought in because D.C. United needed strikers, but each make more than Maicon Santos will earn from Chicago this year. Pajoy didn’t cut it in Philadelphia before being traded, and Rafael (a young designated player) had only scored one, circumstantially meaningless goal in Brazilian national league play (all of his production was in the quasi-competitive state league). Through 213 minutes in D.C., his only MLS tally came off a Andy Greunebaum misread.

Thorrington and Riley aren’t super expensive, but they fit the same pattern. D.C. has a need, they spend more than they probably needed to, and the upgrade isn’t obvious. Thorrington’s fitness concerns mean it’s too early to pass judgment on his acquisition, but did D.C. really need James Riley at $145,000 when they already had Chris Korb, Daniel Woolard, and Robbie Russell?

Building preseason knowledge: Chicago and San Jose tangle

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A few things we learned from Chicago 1-0 win over San Jose on Saturday in Santa Barbara, Calif.

  • Joel Lindpere and Jeff Larentowicz once again held the middle of Chicago’s 4-4-2. Chris Rolfe played beneath Sherjill MacDonald at the head of the attack.
  • Dilly Duka, Arne Friedrich, Patrick Nyarko, and Sean Johnson saw their first action of the 2013 preseason. Duka, the winger recently acquired from Columbus, started on the left.
  • The blog On The Fire reported that Gonzalo Segares was sharp on the left in this report. Less impressive, apparently, was Logan Pause, now stationed on the right along the back line.
  • Increasingly well-traveled MLS forward Quincy Amarikwa appeared as a guest player for Chicago, earning a late penalty kick.
  • From San Jose’s side, forward Chris Wondolowski and defender Justin Morrow made their first preseason appearances in a match for Frank Yallop. They have been in national team camp, of course.
  • Several starters were missing for the Earthquakes.

And now, ground-level match highlights with some peppy music:

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Chicago, Columbus ready to swap Dominic Oduro and Dilly Duka

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It may not seem like Chicago needs another midfielder, but according to reports in the midwest, they’re about to get one. The Fire look set to send attacker Dominic Oduro to Columbus for Dilly Duka, with the Columbus Dispatch reporting the deal is done.

The Fire has already acquired Jeff Larentowicz and Joel Lindpere this offseason, with holdovers Daniel Paladini, Wells Thompson, Alex, and the seemingly right back-bound Logan Pause already forcing Frank Klopas into some improvised solutions. Decisions about how to use attackers like Patrick Nyarko and Chris Rolfe also get pulled into this crowded picture, with Designated Player Sherjill MacDonald likely to be Klopas’s first choice up top.

That crunch is part of the reason Oduro’s moving on. The Ghanian attacker exploded for 12 goals in 2604 minutes after coming over from Houston in 2011, but with more competition for spots in 2012, Oduro slipped to six goals and 1823 minutes.

Though Oduro is four years older than Duka, this seems like a shrewd acquisition for Columbus. Oduro may be the perfect type of guy to come in and spell either Federico Higuaín or Jairo Arrieta, Columbus’s first choice attackers. He’s been far more productive than Duka while making almost the same amount of money (something that may be different for the coming season). While he can’t replace Higuaín’s playmaking ability, he does allow Robert Warzycha to maintain a viable attacking tandem when the Argentine is out.

The main things Columbus give up are youth and promise, but it may be worth it. Duka has provided glimpses of somebody who could provide a needed spark to Columbus’s midfield, but he never established a consistent place in the team (averaging 21 appearances over the last two seasons).

Chicago seems willing to gamble that the talent that made him a U.S. U-20 regular four years ago can still come good. If it doesn’t, Chicago’s merely added to their midfield logjam.

Interesting lineup selection from Chicago’s preseason opener

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When it comes to dissecting the double-top secret plans of MLS managers for the coming season, nobody should get too carried away, obviously, with analysis of lineup choices in January.

That said …

The selections might tell us something, along the lines of future possibilities and potential experiments, if nothing else.

So we look at the Chicago Fire’s 2-0 win Sunday over Florida Gulf Coast University. The starting lineup (for the first of three 30-minute periods) looked like this:

  • Alec Kann*, Logan Pause  (captain), Jalil Anibaba, Austin Berry, Gonzalo Segares; Alex, Jeff Larentowicz, Joel Lindpere, Wells Thompson; Chris Rolfe, Sherjill MacDonald.

That certainly looks like an early version of Frank Klopas’ starting lineup this year. Sean Johnson, currently in Houston with the U.S. national team, is the sure starter in goal.

And nobody needs to wonder about why Arne Friedrich wasn’t in the lineup: the former German international was given permission to report late.

Interesting, then, that newcomers Jeff Larentowicz and Joel Lindpere (pictured) were the preferred starting midfield combo in a 4-4-2. (And that’s not a bad looking center-of-the-park duo, is it?).

Of course, than left no room for Logan Pause – who was stationed at right back.

There was speculation that Pause was headed right there in 2013, so there’s supporting evidence in that direction. Yes, in January, but still …