Sunday, July 26, 2015

U!S!A! U!S!A!

This afternoon, the United States fell to Panama on penalty kicks finishing the 2015 edition of the CONCACAF Gold Cup in fourth place.

The Klinsmann era of U.S. Soccer is being a judged a failure, with the commentariat throwing around names as alternatives for gaffer.

It's important, apparently, to get results.  All the time.  Not in meaningless friendlies against European powerhouses that these opponents don't take seriously.  In important tournaments.  Like the Gold Cup.

Fourth place is unacceptable.  Just like not winning every game of the semifinal group stage for World Cup qualifying will be unacceptable.

These things matter.

I guess.

In his last Gold Cup in 2011, Bob Bradley reversed course from his approach in the 2009 and 2007 editions, opting to go with a smaller, more experienced, group of players.  In the three group stage matches, Bradley started only 13 different players.  Only five of the thirteen were under 28 years of age:  Michael Bradley; Tim Ream; Eric Lichaj; Jozy Altidore; and Juan Agudelo.  Compare that to 2009, when sixteen of twenty-two players that earned starts during the group stage were younger than twenty-eight:  Freddy Adu; Robbie Rogers; Sam Cronin; Charlie Davies; Stuart Holden; Brad Evans; Santino Quaranta; Kenny Cooper; Chad Marshall; Heath Pearce; Luis Robles; Colin Clark; Michael Parkhurst; Clarence Goodson; Kyle Beckerman; and Logan Pause.  In both tournaments, the U.S. lost the Final in depressing fashion to Mexico.  But second place is second place, not fourth.

In 2007, fifteen of the twenty-two players that got starts during the group stage were under 28 (Michael Bradley; Jonathan Spector; Benny Feilhaber; Jonathan Bornstein; Justin Mapp; Frank Simek; Eddie Johnson; Michael Parkhurst; Clint Dempsey; Ricardo Clark; DaMarcus Beasley; Oguchi Onyewu; Landon Donovan; Taylor Twellman; and Jay DeMerit).  Coach Bradley won that Cup.  His first and only. 

In the Klinsmann era, Jurgen has also won one Cup, in 2013.  And two years ago, only ten of the nineteen that started Group Stage matches were under 28:   Stuart Holden; Michael Orozco; Edgar Castillo; Alejandro Bedoya; Tony Beltran; Jose Torres; Sean Johnson; Brek Shea; Joe Corona; and Mikkel Diskerud.

This year, Klinsmann started twenty-one different players in the three group stage matches.  Thirteen of those were under 28:  DeAndre Yedlin; John Brooks; Ventura Alvarado; Gyasi Zardes; Greg Garza; Aron Johannsson; Mikkel Diskerud; Alfredo Morales; Timothy Chandler; Jozy Altidore; Omar Gonzalez; Fabian Johnson; and Tim Ream.

A couple of things interest me about this banal listing of names. 

First, not many of the young guns selected by Coach Bradley panned out and became fixtures of the U.S. men's national team.  That's not terribly surprising, just a fact of trying to find and develop talent, and something that will likely also be true of Klinsmann's selections.  At the same time, it is the point of the Gold Cup tournament -- an opportunity to blood players and test mettle in actual tournament conditions against competent opposition.  That Jurgen used this year's tournament to get first hand looks on young players seems like a good thing, even if they did not perform to expectations.

Second, the pool that Klinsmann is pulling from is a lot bigger and more varied than where Bradley fished.  This also would seem to be a good thing, claims that the U.S. talent pool is peculiarly thin right now notwithstanding. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Plateau

Planning out our Saturday, I ran across Jeff Barker's article in the Baltimore Sun in reference to concerns about attendance at women's college basketball games.  It's pretty dark.  Attendance for first round games was better in 2000 than last year!  Lots of negative framing, like:

Last season's average attendance of 4,887 for the tournament games in College Park may sound meager, but it surpassed the national average of 4,134 for the same sessions.
(I mean, 5,000 people going to watch a live college sporting event doesn't sound meager, but ok...)

My daughters had said they wanted to go to Maryland's tournament opener and Barker's piece clinched it for me -- if support for women's basketball was evaporating, we weren't also going to turn our back.  I forwarded it to friends and family also considering going to the game.

It took us a little while to get in.  Took us a little longer to find open seats for the general admission all-sessions strips we bought.  Which, in retrospect, makes sense since attendance for the game was 7,948 people.

Waiting in line for twenty minutes to get a hot dog led me to think about the premise of the article a little bit.  Interest in women's college basketball has plateaued?  That doesn't seem consistent with what we've seen.  But we've got a limited perspective and the sea of empty seats in Hoffman Estates for the Big Ten Conference tournament was disturbing.

Why was women's college basketball more popular in 2000 than in 2015?  The game is a lot better now, both in terms of quality and in terms of comparative talent between teams.  New Mexico State -- as the 16 seed -- was well-coached and posed a legitimate threat to a very good Maryland team.

Was women's college basketball more popular in 2000 than in 2015?

In 2000, 6.36 million people attended Division I women's college basketball games.  Last season, 8.14 million people attended Division I women's college basketball games.  Which means that in 2014, 1.78 million more people went to a women's college basketball game than in 2000 -- an increase of 28%.  Which is kind of a lot.

The per game attendance average is only slightly higher than it was in 2000, but there were also 28 more Division I teams and 892 more games played in 2014.

The increase has been gradual and fairly consistent year-by-year, although there has not been much of a jump over the last five years.  Still, attendance in 2014 was the second highest its been in history.



Surprisingly, Maryland hasn't been contributing to recent growth in women's basketball attendance.  Attendance has been substantially below 2007-2008 peaks, years when Maryland, on its own, accounted for 2% of all attendance in the sport.  Now, with the decline in attendance at the school and increase in overall attendance, Maryland comprises about 1% of total attendance and hovers between 80 and 100 thousand people:










Has interest in the women's college game declined?  Absolutely not.  Is there a need to be concerned?  Probably not.  The fundamentals of the game are sound.  New schools, like South Carolina, mirror Maryland with explosive growth in interest and attendance.  In fact, South Carolina outdrew Maryland in 2014 (in the chart below, 2007 and 2008 aren't listed because South Carolina's attendance wasn't high enough to be reported in the NCAA data source used):



And traditional powerhouses in attendance, like Notre Dame, have also seen interest increase over the last several years: