The USMNT Comes To Detroit . . . MLS Next?

>> 6.03.2011

18 JUN 2010: USA starting eleven.  Front row (l to r): Steve Cherundolo (USA), Landon Donovan (USA), Jose Torres (USA), Michael Bradley (USA), Robbie Findley (USA), Jozy Altidore (USA).  Back row (l to r): Clint Dempsey (USA), Oguchi Onyewu (USA), Tim Howard (USA), Jay DeMerit (USA), Carlos Bocanegra (USA). The Slovenia National Team tied the United States National Team 2-2 at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa in a 2010 FIFA World Cup Group C match.

Next Tuesday, the most incredible possible confluence of my own personal sports awesomeness will happen. The U.S. Men’s National Team will play the opening round of the CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament at Ford Field. The USMNT playing a meaningful game on the Lions’ home turf mashes up my sports passions like . . . uh, the Red Wings in Spartan Stadium? The Tigers taking the field in the Rose Bowl? The Lions on the hardwood of Breslin Student Events Center?

Yes, for the first time in 17 years, the USMNT will play in Metro Detroit. Birmingham native Alexi Lalas, a starting defender on that ‘94 US team that played in the Silverdome, is thrilled to come home to watch this match as an analyst. The Motor City Supporters, and the Detroit chapter of the American Outlaws, the USMNT supporter’s group, will be out in force. The leading lights of the US Soccer Federation will be here, seeing for themselves how Detroit supports their teams. What’s more, there’s now a top-flight professional soccer league in America—and MLS officials will be in Ford Field, anxious to see what kind of support Southeast Michigan can muster.

Watching with them will be Steve Apostolopoulos, owner of the Silverdome. As the head of the ownership group trying to bring an MLS team to Detroit, he’ll be rooting for a good showing—on the field, and off. “We’re hoping that things go well,” he told me. “We know that [MLS is] excited, and we’re very excited to have this caliber of soccer coming to the Detroit area.” I asked him what the status of expansion bid is, and if Detroit has a chance to usurp New York City’s claim on the 20th franchise. “We’d love to be the 20th market,” he said. “We know the commissioner’s pushing for the New York team. If things come around full circle there, and they’re the 20th team, then we’d love to be the 21st.”

Of course, Detroit is not the only option for the 21st team; recently MLS Commissioner Don Garber urged the State of Nevada to consider building a soccer stadium in Las Vegas, and Vikings owner Zygi Wilf mentioned an MLS franchise as a possible source of revenue for the Vikings’ theoretical new digs. I asked Mr. Apostolopoulos about Detroit’s chances against these other markets. “We know there are other possible expansion cities, but we feel we are frontrunners amongst them. We have a committed ownership group, we have a stadium, and a strong vision we believe in.”

I was anxious for an update on that radical Silverdome renovation he discussed with me in February. “We are preparing for the renovation; we’ve engaged with architect firms and engineers. We’re going to proceed with RFPs soon—though we have estimates; we know how much it will cost.” Given the variety of events the Silverdome is being used for, and the multiple uses of the indoor spaces below the field, Mr. Apostolopoulos told me his group will “proceed with the renovation either way,” regardless of whether Detroit has secured an MLS bid.

In the meantime, his Triple Sports Group is trying to bring even more top-flight soccer to Detroit. “We’re in discussions with various European, and several English, football clubs for more friendlies [exhibitions]. It’s mainly a matter of working out timing with the FIFA dates,” referring to sections of the calendar when pro teams must take time off, for international play (like the Gold Cup).

It’s been thought that if MLS isn’t ready to come to Detroit, the Silverdome could host a team in the second-division USL or NASL leagues, and hope to be promoted to the MLS after some time. This what happened with the Portland Timbers, and the Seattle Sounders. If the Silverdome renovation is complete before MLS has awarded Detroit a team, that seems like a natural fit. I asked Steve about this possibility. “Our focus is on Major League Soccer,” he said. “We’ve been approached by other leagues, and that’s an option too, but right now our main focus is on MLS. Our discussions with the league continue to go well. They are definitely very interested in Detroit as a market.”

So. Let's show MLS, US Soccer, and the world just how we do it. Let’s show up huge against Canada on Tuesday. I guarantee it’ll be worth your while—and I’ll even save you five bucks. Click here for tickets to the Gold Cup date at Ford Field, and enter in the promo code “GC11.” Your tickets even buy you two games: Panama vs. Guadaloupe at 6 pm, and the border showdown between the USMNT and Canada at 8 o’clock. If we can show up huge, I bet it won’t be 17 years before we see soccer like this again.

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Old Mother Hubbard: Wrap-Up, Analysis, Needs List

>> 6.02.2011

Yesterday, I posted the final post-draft “awesomeness” heat map of the Lions’ current depth chart. I didn’t really analyze it, per se, just provided a list of clarifying/qualifying bullet points. The coolest thing about data visualization is that it simply is, and anyone can understand at a glance what’s going on. That said, I slaved over making the thing, so you folks are probably curious about what caught my eye in the process.

The offensive line needs help. Clearly, the center and right guard were well below average last season; Stephen Peterman in particular played poorly (no doubt due to myriad injuries, as he was much much better in 2009). With the exception of right tackle, there isn’t a quality backup anywhere along the line. The left side of the line is actually quite good, though; if Peterman and Raiola return to their usual standard of play, the starting five should be one of the better lines in the game. If not—or if the injury bug bites—the Lions’ line could be in big, big trouble. I also have big concerns for 2012 and beyond; Hilliard, Fox, and/or Culbreath need to stake their claims on future starting roles.

Calvin Johnson is so good. Megatron was the Lions’ best player in 2010, and it wasn’t close. He was the third-best graded WR in the NFL, and two-and-a-half standard deviations from the mean! I think Lions fans forget how good he is, because they know how good he can be. We keep waiting for him to haul in 140 catches for 2,400 yards and 30 touchdowns—and if anyone ever could do that, it’s him—but maybe we should stop a minute to appreciate 77 catches for 1,120 yards and 12 touchdowns, especially given the quarterback situation.

Non-Megatron receivers need to step up. It’s no secret that Bryant Johnson and Derrick Williams simply haven’t produced. Johnson has struggled mightily to catch the ball, and Williams, when used, isn’t getting open. Nate Burleson is dangerous with the ball in his hands, but isn’t a threat to stretch the field. If Titus Young can make an immediate impact, Johnson and Burleson should have much more room to operate. I’m counting the tight ends here, too; Tony Scheffler had a mysterious stretch of poor form after an electrifying first few games, and Brandon Pettigrew dropped an awful lot of balls he got his hands on (and got called for ten penalties!). Both of them have the ability to be top ten receiving TEs—if either of them can play like it, it’ll be a huge boost to the offense.

The defensive line is strong and deep, but wasn’t invincible last season. Ndamukong Suh likely won’t improve his sack total from last year—in fact, I’d expect a regression—but his overall effectiveness should be better than we see here. Corey Williams played like a man possessed, but his horrific penalty total (15 called, 2 declined/offset) put a huge damper on his final grade. Nobody had more penalties called, or assessed, than Williams. Nobody in the NFL, at any position. That’s not just aggression leading to the occasional jump—that’s a chronic problem that extends drives, in a defense built to stop them.

The much-maligned back seven is just below average. As much as observers like to pretend the Lions’ back seven consists of Louis Delmas and six tackling dummies, none of the presumed starters were more than a standard deviation below NFL average. Amari Spievey actually turned in the best grade of the back seven, and Louis Delmas was playing through a severe groin injury. The Lions added Erik Coleman to the safety corps, and should add a corner and/or linebacker in free agency. If they can get a little better in a couple of spots, the excellent defensive line will be backed by a perfectly average ‘backer corps and secondary.

That said, the back seven dominates the remaining shopping list:

  • An impact two-way defensive end to rotate soon, and develop for 2012 [Upon further review, Lawrence Jackson fits this bill].
  • A credible backup middle linebacker.
  • An athletic, pass-rushing OLB ready to start right away.
  • An athletic, pass-rushing OLB to rotate soon, and develop for 2012 [I'm giving Doug Hogue the benefit of the doubt here].
  • An athletic cover corner, ready to take over one side in 2012.
  • If Chris Houston leaves, a complete two-way corner, ready to start right away.
  • A left tackle who can be groomed to replace Jeff Backus [I like Culbreath, and have hope for Jason Fox, but calling this need "filled" is too much of a stretch].
  • A center who will be ready to rotate at guard soon, and compete at center for 2012.
  • A field-stretching #2 WR.
  • A power back to complement Jahvid Best.

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Old Mother Hubbard: 2011 Post-Draft Heat Map

>> 6.01.2011

Without further ado, your 2011 Detroit Lions, as they exist post-draft, as graded by Pro Football Focus:

The 2011 Detroit Lions team needs heat map, powered by Pro Football Focus grades and The Lions In Winter's Old Motherr Hubbard analysis.

click for big

IMPORTANT INFORMATION:

  • All of the above colors represent that player's Pro Football Focus "overall" grade for 2011.
  • The grades have been banded into tiers, one half of one standard deviation from the mean for each position. Green is good, Red is bad, Gray indicates insufficient 2010 snaps, a rookie, or a hazy depth chart.
  • The main (inside) color is the presumed starter for 2011. The exterior ring is the presumed backup.
  • As a reminder, PFF's overall grade weighs penalties strongly; Corey Williams would be several tiers higher if not for his 13 penalties. PFF’s grade also tends to value consistency over sporadic big plays.
  • Brandon Pettigrew is the “starting” TE; Tony Scheffler the #2.
  • Nate Burleson is the #1 X receiver and #1 Y receiver; I anticipate he will be the X in 2-WR sets and Y in 3-WR sets.
  • Titus Young is the #2 X receiver and #2 Z receiver; I anticipate he will be the X in 3-WR sets.
  • Jahvid Best is the #1 RB; Mikel LeShoure the #2.
  • Quarterback data is not normalized, so I have not included it.
  • Corey Williams is the starting Nose Tackle (1-technique); Sammie Hill the #2.
  • Ndamukong Suh is the starting Over Tackle (3-technique); Nick Fairley the #2.
  • KVB and Lo-Jack are the #1 and #2 LDEs, respectively.
  • Cliff Avril and Willie Young are the #1 and #2 RDEs, respectively.
  • Bobby Carpenter and Ashlee Palmer are the starting RLB and LLB, respectively.
  • Chris Houston is CB1, Nate Vasher CB2, and Alphonso Smith NCB.
  • Amari Spievey is the LS, and Louis Delmas the RS.

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Three Cups Deep: Off the Grid, Then Plugged In

>> 5.31.2011

I hope you all enjoyed your Memorial Day weekend; I did despite storms knocking out my power for the better part of a day. It was refreshing, if annoying, to detach from the grid, eat flame-grilled hot dogs, and read my kids bedtime stories by candlelight. My power was restored on Memorial Day itself, so I got a nice object lesson on how blessed we, as Americans, are, and how great our veterans’ sacrifices were to afford us these freedoms. It also underscored to me how strongly we depend on the technology all around us—and the energy that powers it—to lead our blessed lives.

Obviously, I didn’t post yesterday; even though my laptop had some juice, I didn’t have any Internet access. I do have an iron in the fire though: I’ll be updating the OMH Heat Map with the offensive players, hopefully by this afternoon. I’ll also be trying to finish out the Meet the Cubs series this week with Nick Fairley. I’ve got something big lined up to cap off the week, too . . . something of the other football variety.

While you’re all waiting, I’d like to draw your attention to Pride of Detroit, where Lions DE Lawrence Jackson has joined up as a commenter. Lo-Jack has been all over lately; he really “gets” social media in a way that few do—and what’s best, he has lots and lots and lots of interesting things to say. There are very few active pro athletes who are as candid, intelligent, and self-aware as Lo-Jack, and we should all be thrilled he’s a Lion. I know not all of you do Twitter, but if you do and you read this blog and you’re not already following @lojackson94, you need to fix that, pronto.

Part of the amazing part of digital media is the ability to be interactive, to say your piece and then mix it up in the comments—or to read someone else’s blog and mix it up in their comments. Or, you can “re-blog” something someone else wrote; take another blogger’s post and pen a reaction to it. Bloggers have the ability to be both writers and readers, journalists and fans. Any blogger knows it’s possible the people they’re blogging about might read their work—and sometimes, our subjects even grab a digital microphone and speak for themselves. But having an active Lion join the commentariat at PoD? That’s new, that’s awesome . . . and that’s kind of terrifying.

Just as the pro beat writers have to come back into the locker room then next day after they call a player out, serious bloggers are going to be held accountable by their subjects. I occasionally contribute to PoD; what do I do when one of the men I write about (and idolize) takes issue with something I write, and lets everyone know in the comments? How much do I let “what will X think about this?” affect what I write, while I write it?

Of course, I can’t ethically pull my punches here—those of you who read my stuff come to read my stuff, and not censored versions of my stuff. Moreover, I write here specifically to get my feelings out “on the page,” as it were. I always have been, and will continue to be, completely honest with my thoughts and emotions here. In the meantime, I expect everyone here to be real with me in return, even if William Clay Ford signs your paychecks.

Yesterday I was harshly reminded of how easily our brave new digital world can be unplugged. Today, I’m thankful to be a fan in a time when we can get past the artifice of uniforms and Bull Durham clich├ęs, and connect with the people we cheer for as human beings.


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