When you add it all up, the Crew have played 88 Major League Soccer games since the start of the 2011 season.
Here’s the Ohioan Breakdown since 2011 (for the sake of argument we will Ohio-ise Matt Lampson and Konrad Warzycha). On the left is number of Ohioans in starting lineup and on the right is the number of times it happened.
# of Ohioans : Games Started
ONE : 26
TWO : 18
THREE : 9
FOUR : 2
SIX : 1
What this tells us is that 56/88 MLS matches since 2011 have featured at least one person from the Buckeye State. I guess the first question that dying to be answered is thus: Is there any difference between results with an Ohioan in the lineup vs without?
1.41 PPG : With Ohioan
1.34 PPG : Without Ohioan
Interesting. But a closer look takes us to the fact that the last time an Ohioan was not in the lineup was the 5th Round of 2012 (48 games ago). Turns out that until Josh Williams found himself in the starting lineup in 2012, Danny O’Rourke was the only local guy getting any regular minutes. The depressed PPG number without an Ohioan is driven by the heady ‘balanced schedule’ days of MLS back in 2011.
2013 has seen a slight trend towards more Ohio born and/or raised players. Now, along with Williams and O’Rourke, we have Ben Speas and Chad Barson regularly making the game day starting XI.
This past weekend fans saw Matt Lampson, Konrad Warzycha and a Mr. Wil Trapp getting the call to join Williams, Barson and O’Rourke in the lineup.
$ 48,250 : Median Salary of Ohioan Starter since 2011
$ 133,875 : Median Salary of Non-Ohioan Starter since 2011
This sudden influx of Ohioans in the starting lineup really had me digging into my data. Does it help to have a local guy starting? Is it cheaper but costs points? What’s the goal difference? Does it matter at all? Wow, a lot of questions and I’ve started a gigantic internal dialog.
----- > Fair warning; I’m going to walk through my thoughts here because I’m working with a lot of information and bumping up against some limitations both in my own capacity and time to digest all of this.
STARTING WITH THE QUESTIONS
1. Does it help to have a local guy starting?
Not really. I played around with greater or less than 2 or 3 players or with no Ohioans in the lineup. I even looked at extending it to regional players. The results are mixed and nothing really stands out. Turns out that it really just depends on if Williams and O’Rourke are starting. For example, here is something that really stood out at first since 2011:
1.67 PPG : 2 Ohioans (basically Williams and O’Rourke in starting XI)
1.32 PPG : Any other combination of players (>3 Ohioans or None at all)
Most of the equity in the ‘two ohioans’ is from the 2012 season. There was a mid-season spell that went really well. So there isn’t enough to say that starting lots of Ohioans (again, outside of Williams and O’Rourke) or none at all makes much difference.
2. Cheaper to play home state guys?
This past weekend when the Crew started six players with local ties you would have thought maybe it was cheaper. And It was... for 2013. In fact it was the least expensive 2013 starting lineup the Crew have started.
Guaranteed Salary of Starters : 2013 MLS Round
$ 1,674,078 : 19 (vs. Portland)
$ 1,715,771 : 12 (vs. New York)
$ 1,759,596 : 14 (vs. Philadelphia)
But these three cheapest starting lineups in 2013 are nowhere near the least expensive in the last three years. Not even in the top 20 cheapest (even with adjustment for inflation).
3. Least Expensive Starting Lineups since 2011
The 2012 version of the Columbus Crew was cheap. Well, at least it was towards the beginning of the year before Jairo Arrieta and Federico Higuain joined the club. Here are the least expensive lineups going back to 2011:
Starter’s Guaranteed Salary : Year : Round (Opponent)
$ 1,178,212 : 2012 : 14 (vs. Chicago)
$ 1,208,899 : 2012 : 12 (vs. Chicago)
$ 1,220,106 : 2012 : 15 (vs. RSL)
$ 1,266,678 : 2012 : 11 (vs. Seattle)
All in 2012. There was really a kinda cool time for Crew fans about a quarter of the way into last year when the team’s stars were Josh Williams, Cole Grossman, Justin Meram, Nemanja Vukovic and Carlos Mendes. These guys played their guts out for next to nothing against some really good teams and got results while Milovan Mirosevic and Chad Marshall were out.
4. Most Expensive Starting Lineups since 2011
Starter’s Guaranteed Salary : Year : Round (Opponent)
$ 2,385,310 : 2011 : 1 (vs. DC United)
$ 2,357,839 : 2013 : 10 (vs. Colorado)
$ 2,353,839 : 2013 : 8 (vs. DC United)
$ 2,305,231 : 2011 : 33 (vs. New England)
5. Does Price of Starting Lineup Matter?
Again. No. Well, maybe yes. It’s weird. There are some indicators that tell me the Crew over pay for some of the players, which isn’t unique to the Crew, but it does hit them harder than a New York because of budget constraints.
To answer the question of the relationship of salaries to results I made a chart.
• The red line is the median salary of the starting player for that week (I rolled it to smooth out the line, the light gray line is week to week).
• The green bars are rolling results (3 pts for win, 1 draw, 0 loss). I rolled that as well to smooth it out.
The very first thing I noticed was the variance in results compared to the relative stability in the salaries of the starting players in 2011. Turns out the drop off happend right after Robert Warzycha was re-signed to a new deal (only two wins after that momentous occasion). It was not until the next year that results started to improve (see: “..cool time for Crew fans” above).
They improved quite a bit and at a lower median wage. It wasn’t until Jairo Arrieta and Federico Higuain signed with the Crew that the median wage went back up into early 2011 days.
Since the signing of Arrieta and Higuain results seem to be in lockstep with median salary of starters. note where the Crew are right now and the relationship with results on the far right of the chart.
5 Cheapest Starting lineups since 2011...
Wage Median : Year : Round
$ 69,866 : 2012 : 3
$ 71,498 : 2013 : 19
$ 80,681 : 2013 : 15
$ 80,681 : 2013 : 17
$ 80,695 : 2013 : 14
Extend this out to top ten cheapest lineups and you see that 2013 occupies 8 of the 10.
Why is that? Well, the injuries to Glauber and Eddie Gaven (two starters) are injured for the season and their replacements are Chad Barson and Bernardo Anor, both of whom are $46,500 players.
Guaranteed Wages : Players
$ 458,333 : Gaven + Glauber
$ 93,000 : Barson + Anor
$ 365,333 : No longer Starting (injured)
If you look across the teams across the league and their wages you see that starters make > $ 100k. This isn’t any different with the Crew, except now with Gaven and Glauber’s absence all the wage metrics down.
Previous to this year, the Crew’s median starting wage bill only dipped below six figures four times in 69 games dating back to 2011. This year is completely different in that it hasn’t been above six figures since Round 10 of this year. That was nine games ago.
Since the Crew dropped below six figures (and falling) they have only three wins in last nine games (with two draws, four losses) and a goal difference of -2. To put this another way; Results are deteriorating along with the drop in average wage salary this year.
SMALLER SALARIES, DECREASED POINTS
I have noticed that with the decrease in starting wages the club, in turn, see’s a decrease in points earned. While I think there should be applause for it, the Crew’s last match that included six Ohio players is the exception not the rule. Same could be said for individual players like Josh Williams and Bernardo Anor who outperform contracts.. they are the exceptions.
There doesn’t not seem to be any direct relationship between starting zero, two or six Ohioans and results (good or bad). The relationship has more to do with how much a player is worth, which in most (not all, especially in MLS) cases is how much he is paid. And right now, whether it be through circumstance or not, the Crew aren’t starting a lot of that and it is starting to show.
...but is that a bad thing?
The true value of a player is not just in results on the field. Take, for example, Danny O’Rourke and the fact that he was raised right here in Columbus. While he is a great MLS player he also indirectly gives kids around town the confidence that they can make it too. It helps tie the community to the team.
Something else to keep in mind is the competitive structure of Major League Soccer. The way it is set up (particularly since Seattle, Vancouver and Montreal have joined) is for teams that fill Designated Player slots or search the globe for quality players to win trophies. The days of a scrappy slightly above average group of players winning the Supporters’ Shield are likely gone.
What this leaves teams with is the hope of making the playoffs and then mix it up from there (and even that).
What this has done is help define success in the league in that just making the playoffs is seen as a successful year, especially for teams on a budget like Columbus. With that in mind it makes a great deal of sense to save dollars by recruiting within the region, as the Crew have. Not only are the players less expensive but they also have built in support groups that help take care of them (you probably see them at home games). Whereas a foreign player costs more. From the cost of scouting to getting them here and settled to teaching them the language and finally to their (likely) inflated salary.
Knowing or not, the Columbus Crew are doing some of the right things by bringing in regional players if they take the time to develop them. These guys might not be on a MLS level right now and if they continue to play this year than the playoffs are not going to happen, but the only way to improve these players is to play them and let them take their lumps.
I looked at the relationship between results and average salary and there was not any clear relationship between fielding a lot of expensive players verses some players down the bench.
If you break the 88 games since 2011 into four equal groups based on median salary results shocked me at first but then quickly realized that the inconsistency of 2011 was to blame (story for another post, perhaps).
Pay Group (1 least expensive, 4 most expensive lineup) with 2011 in the results. On the right is Points per Game:
1 : 1.68
2 : 1.64
4 : 1.18
3 : 1.04
Now here it is with 2011 taken out:
2 : 1.50
3 : 1.45
1 : 1.39
4 : 1.25
In other leagues it would be surprising to see the most expensive lineups dropping to the bottom but not surprising the most expensive lineup and least expensive drop to the bottom in a capped league like MLS were one player addition can put a lineup in 1 or 4 pay group.
In my opinion having one or two players driving your salary metrics that far out of of control causes a great deal of inconsistency (both on the books and on the field).
What this leads me to believe is that if the Crew and the fans are willing to be patient and let inexpensive young players develop then the team might have a solid and successful team with a pipeline of regional players filling up with talent for years to come.
Thanks for reading.