Pitch Points writes in its diary

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Alan Winn, thinkin’ ’bout soccer ball. Photo by Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

Alan Winn, writin’ ’bout life. The Nashville SC rookie striker is writing a diary for the PDL website. That’s actually secret code for “does a weekly exclusive interview,” but there are still some interesting tidbits.

“I thought Pittsburgh did a wonderful job of staying organized. They had their 3-4-3 system going on and defensively they dropped to a 5-4-1, so they were very organized and structured and, credit to them, they were hard to break down.”

Good tactical talk (obviously something very near and dear to this site).

Also: :galvao: The fan favorite on his move to the USL side from last year’s PDL roster:

“It’s like the whole city has a positive energy,” said Galvão. “I feel positive vibes in the city, and that’s something that I haven’t felt in many of the other cities I’ve visited in the States. It’s definitely great to be in a great city with a great team with a great staff, a lot of good people and experience. The whole package together makes me feel very happy and very excited.”

What he said.

MLS players polled. Many of the questions are lame. But there are nuggets of goodness in some of this MLS player survey.

“There’s an emphasis right now with this league on signing young players from abroad with the TAM money, which is good from a business perspective. But if we want our young players to develop, if we want our federation to develop, if we want our national team to develop, these guys need to get games.”

Agreed – though I always point out that it’s not MLS’s job to help the federation develop talent, it’s the coaches’ job to win games and help the team make money. That said, I have wondered if TAM ends up resulting in comparable talents getting more playing time if they’re not domestic, from a simple “we have invested in this guy whereas that guy was cheap, so let’s not waste our money” perspective.

Do you favor promotion/relegation in MLS?

Yes: 63%
No: 36%
No answer: 1%

Editor’s note: In 2017, those in favor of promotion and relegation numbered 54 percent of those asked, compared to 49 percent in 2016 and 64 percent in 2015.

What the players said:

“To play on a team that’s fighting against relegation, it makes games mean something. In MLS, where we haven’t made the playoffs, those games are dumb at the end of the year. Because people just tune out. Fans tune out.”

“Where we haven’t made the playoffs” is pretty key here: As currently constructed, the playoff race (where every team that makes it has a chance for a championship) is similarly interesting to a relegation race. The difference is where in the table it happens – and of course to a certain extent, the seriousness of the consequences when you lose.

Click through, because there’s quite a bit more, including a pretty popular opinion (and one I agree with) that the playoffs in MLS take way too long. They ultimately make for a ridiculously long offseason for teams that don’t make the playoffs, among the many things that’s an issue with MLS’s ability to develop talent.

 

USMNT. Dave Sarachan extended as the USMNT’s interim manager through June. Kind of “blah” (especially after Tuesday night) but at the same time, if you’ve come this far, you may as well wait until after the World Cup to see who is and isn’t available. Gotta get him working in the best interests of the federation and MNT program rather than the interest of just worrying about a result, though.

The lack of a general manager thanks to a moronic job description plays a role here. Sarachan’s goals and those of the federation are not necessarily aligned right now. That isn’t to say they’re opposed, just orthogonal to each other.

Landon Donovan enjoying his mentor role in Mexico. I’ve brought this up before, but Donovan is a guy that US Soccer needs to get involved. However much of his “I’m here to help teach, not to play” is BS, that he’s at least saying it is meaningful. He can also be a help to young guys in figuring out a career path – because of, not despite, his failed stint(s) in Germany – and that’s what I’ve advocated for USSF to involve him doing.

In that vein, going along with obvious development things that the federation doesn’t think to do, how about a program through MLS (or maybe through the national team program, to include guys playing at a higher level overseas) that has career development stuff for post-playing days for these guys? I know there are some limited programs, but if Landon Donovan had the opportunity to earn USSF coaching licenses, or get front office training right now, wouldn’t that benefit the federation (in a huge way) going forward? Lack of quality coaches problem gets smashed in one generation of players.

A lot to unpack from this story about NYRB’s development. There are certainly legit arguments from the Columbus side of things (before even getting into #SaveTheCrew talk) that central Ohio doesn’t produce enough talent for a full USL side, but… doesn’t it still make sense to have an owned/operated team that you populate partially from your academy and partially from traditional USL signings?

Save the Fairgrounds, a topic that just won’t die. Steve Glover is engaging in a disingenuous, bad-faith effort to try to prevent a stadium from being built at all. “I don’t want a stadium” is a fine position to have (though one I – like probably every reader of this site – obviously disagree with). Misrepresenting that position to try to undermine Metro Council legislation that has already passed just makes you a bad guy (which every constituent from District 12 that I’ve talked to mentions is not a newsflash).

Now District 2 Councilman DeCosta Hastings has hastily (no pun intended but I REGRET NOTHING) joined forces trying to get the stadium moved to Metro Center. It’s a delay tactic for Glover, a face-saving one for Hastings after he rather embarrassingly showed he forgot what he voted for in November – or never read it in the first place – and now has to look like he’s sticking up for his constituents. After last week’s meeting, the chances that this goes anywhere are exactly zero, but Glover seems to get enjoyment out of the constant embarrassment he subjects himself to, and Hastings has put himself in a position where not proposing a #MMLSSTMC bill is no more embarrassing than the 37-2 annihilation his proposal is bound to take on the chin.

In actual productive stadium talk, not Metro Councilmembers putting their egos above the good of their city, NPR has a piece on the community benefits agreement meeting that took place last Thursday.

Etc.: ‘grats to former Michigan striker Francis Atuahene, who was assigned to OKC Energy by FC Dallas and scored his first goal opening weekend. … A ban on heading in youth soccer may be on the way around the world after the US started it. … The differences between the focus of the Canadian Premier League and MLS are interesting as a case study at the very least – and could be another factor forcing MLS to step up its game, at best. It launches in 2019. … Profile of US Youth International Indiana Vassilev from local media – to Aston Villa (where he just signed). … Talk on college soccer’s role in the development world. For now, it obviously doesn’t really fit in. I’m willing to wait for this thing to blow up in the next 2-3 years before I bother figuring out the way to shoehorn it in. … Nashville Scene talkin’ Goalden Ale and Nashville SC.

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Observations from Nashville SC practice

Most of the period of practice that was open to media today was the installation/fine-tuning of a five-man backline scheme (and the rest of it was positional drills), so there’s a little less to glean from offensive players, but we got a really good look at the defensive personnel. Gary Smith did mention in his press conference afterwards – video coming soon – that it’s one of multiple formations they intend to run out, so it sounds like there’ll be four-man backlines, as well.

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Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

Lineup notes

The first-choice line appeared to be (left to right): Taylor Washington, Justin Davis, Liam Doyle, London Woodberry, and Kosuke Kimura. Ryan James rotated in on the outside on both sides. Jordan Dunstan and Bradley Bourgeois rotated in at the CB positions, too (I believe Dunstan got a tiny bit of time at RB, too).

In front of the backline, NSC was going with two holding midfielders – first choice Michael Reed and Matt LaGrassa, second choice Bolu Akinyode and Josh Hughes – so this is a pretty defensive formation if those wingbacks don’t get forward (though obviously that’s a strength of Kimura’s game, and Washington has some forward ability as well). Cutting out crosses, and tactics/switching/etc. when those wingbacks got into dangerous areas up the field was a focus of the install.

Since there wasn’t a true offensively-focused portion in the open portion, there’s not quite s much to glean about the personnel battles there. Offensive groupings included Robin Shroot and Martim Galvao together, as well as Michael Cox and Tucker Hume. Striker Ropapa Mensah was not in attendance, settling his visa situation before he joins the squad next week.

There was a handful of non-rostered players – clarified by Smith after practice as those who tried out, didn’t make the 23, but have something to contribute as practice players who could be signed to USL contracts down the road – also there (including a couple different keepers and a number of midfielders).

Personnel observations

Two players really stood out as vocal leaders. Kosuke Kimura is obviously familiar with Smith’s tactics from their previous stops together (including the MLS championship side for the Colorado Rapids back in 2010), and the veteran is very good at instructing, demonstrating, coaching up, etc. He’s still a ball of energy even though he’s starting to get up in years, so there shouldn’t be worry about the team getting into offensive shape even with a 5-3-2 formation. Still, his ability to communicate and teach was the most impressive aspect to me.

The center backs were still learning the priorities and rules for the system, but in the defense-favored format of the practice, all looked fairly solid. There’s going to be a curve in terms of building familiarity and communication with each other. Justin Davis seemed to be the most solid there, though after playing outside left back in a four-man backline for Minnesota United, it’ll still take a bit of adjusting.

The practice was about getting the field players ready, so the goalkeeper rotation (which was heavy on CJ Cochran) probably isn’t particularly meaningful. Smith hinted that Matt Pickens is probably the top dog at that position in the press conference.

In the midfield, Robin Shroot was extremely vocal, even in the modified-Rondo portion of the practice. Communicating and a bit of veteran savvy are going to combine to give him a real role to play. Former San Antonio FC captain Michael Reed (defensive midfield) was a good communicator in organizing his defense, as well.

The Martim Galvão fixation for fans (the former NSC U-23 star had longtime “why hasn’t he signed?” status) is probably a way to set the guy up for failure – expectations so high they’d be tough for anyone to meet – but he fit right in on a roster composed entirely of pros. There’s definitely going to be a role for him (if not a major one) this Summer. His touch and ability to move the ball through traffic translates better than I’d expected.

Kimura and James both played a couple nice crosses, and with target-forward Tucker Hume roaming the middle, that’s going to be a dangerous tactic this season. Unfortunately, on both occasions (including one on which he was all alone in front of net), the header sailed just high. He’ll dial that accuracy in a bit with more time on the training pitch.

Again, not much to be gleaned from the offensive guys, so don’t read too much into a lack of notes on them. Michael Cox had a handful of nice touches in addition to the guys I’ve mentioned above.

Pitch Points goes D-3

The USL’s second division moves toward its 2019 launch with its first team announcement, pro-rel on the horizon, women’s soccer, and much more!

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Soccer-specific stadium on the way for the first official US D3 squad.

Who will be in USL D-3? For starters, Tormenta FC will move up from the PDL. SB Nation’s Orlando City blog has a few other likely choices. A healthy third division is important for the growth of soccer in this country (in addition to a healthy second division – the NASL never was, which is why the league to the “fail then sue” business model), and yes, for the dream of pro/rel to even be a reasonable consideration, much less realistic future.

Speaking of USL and pro/rel, league president Jake Edwards is making some noise about a potential future in it between the two divisions once D3 is launched:

I think it would be very interesting to look at pro-rel between those two divisions. We certainly could do it now and I think there’s an interest to do it among our board. We are going to experiment with precursors, such as maybe some sort of inter-league competition, an inter-league cup. We’re going to look at options like that to see if that works.

To be sensible, we’ve got to get the structure and the quality right first at the Division 3 level. We’ve got to make sure we’ve got the right owners; stadiums that are the right size and the right quality; and we’ve got a number of teams, and maybe a structure, that’s maybe a bit more aligned and mirrored of the second division.

That second paragraph is a major important piece (as I alluded to above), and one that is often overlooked among the zealotry fringe.

Edwards also spoke with Four Four Two, though there’s a lot of overlap between the two pieces.

MLS makes a positive change. I haven’t seen this officially announced anywhere, but evidently teams are allowed to keep 100% of profits for selling homegrown players. My rough translation of the French (by which I mean “Google’s rough translation of the French”):

Better, the Impact will not have to share the transfer money with the league. Until last season, MLS kept 25% of the total sale of a club-trained player. A rule that has obviously changed to reward training clubs, which today change the face of the Garber circuit.

With 100% of the transfer money in their pockets, the Impact will be proactive, with President Saputo having decided to use it to strengthen the squad … to the extent permitted by the league. Indeed, the MLS rules only allow clubs to reinvest a maximum of $ 750,000 (formerly $ 650,000) of the amount of a transfer in the improvement of the first team. This sum then takes the form of a basic monetary allocation (GAM).

An incentive to develop players and sell players will help the league enrich itself and grow.

Piggybacking off that, an interesting take on why German clubs seem so much more willing to play youngsters (including several well-known young Americans):

It used to be that coaches were scared of throwing in new players. Older players got priority and older coaches stayed in the system. An interesting development is that in the meanwhile there is less reliance on older coaches and the older coaches aren’t automatically hired. To the chagrin of the older coaches, who don’t believe that’s good at all.

But young coaches are arriving in their early 30s and late 20s, because those in management have realized that’s the better, the right, the innovative way.

There’s going to be a point in the development of the American soccer culture where the coaches are people who have come up through academies, have been coaches by those who picked up interest in the game when it boomed in the late 80s (and when they came up, the access to high-level coaching was even lower), and I think that inflection point is going to see more of a boom than many realize.

It won’t be like a switch flipping, but it’s certainly an area where college soccer – giving people the ability to remain involved in the sport even if they don’t have professional playing options in the long-term, for example – is going to play a crucial role in developing the next generations.

Obligatory USSF presidential section. In Four Four Two, Beau Dure runs through a comprehensive look at the eight presidential candidates’ performances (word choice intentional by me) at the Soccer Coaches Convention in Philadelphia. He doesn’t make it clear whether his consideration of Wynalda as the front runner is just the vibe he gets from their appearances at the event, or actual discussions with voting delegates (which seems unlikely to me).

The role of Soccer United Marketing has been a hot topic in the presidential race, and SI’s Grant Wahl seems to have gotten some straight answers (at the very least as enlightening as we’re going to get) from MLS commissioner Don Garber. I don’t know that there’s a whole lot in there that Garber hasn’t previously explained – and folks have already made up their minds on whether they want to believe what he says and what the intentions of SUM are.

Advanced stats in soccer. I’m big on advanced statistics (and you’ll find that over time with me here if I haven’t already made it obvious), and Opta is obviously at the forefront in this particular sport. An over-arching stat is difficult in a sport such as this, though, and I’m super-excited to see how it develops.

Opta does provide official stat-keeping for USL, though at least based on last year’s numbers, I’m not sure how much depth they provide. Tons and tons of individual passing, shooting, etc. stats (as you’ve likely seen in my player profiles), but is xG going to be available, for example? I’d love to see the data continue to develop, at the very least.

Whatever’s available, I’m hoping to bring it to the coverage here.

Women’s soccer ups and downs. NWSL club Boston Breakers has folded. If the United States is to remain the hegemon in international women’s soccer, a healthy pro league is important. It provides career opportunities for the outstanding athletes who otherwise wouldn’t be able to devote as much time to their craft in keeping the USWNT globally dominant. With other countries starting to catch up to our emphasis on girls’ youth sports (and in some ways, passing us on the women’s professional side), there are potentially dark times ahead for remaining on top of the global structure.

It’s tough with MLS teams not cracking a profit other than the money that comes through SUM, but I’d like to see every MLS squad own and operate an NWL side – with the full youth structure below it, as well. Soccer has been one of the few sports (tennis is the only other I can think of) that has comparable economic viability for women as for men in the United States. Having twice as many events to fill a soccer-specific stadium in the Summer seems like a good economic opportunity – and of course leads to a closer-knit soccer culture in the places that are fortunate enough to have that chance. I think Nashville SC’s ownership group in particular should get into the NWSL game as quickly as possible (it would be one of my top priorities after establishing an academy structure that services youths of both genders).

All of this is actually a topic I’ve been planning to write an entire post about for a little while, but since it seems I’ve jumped right into it, there’s an interesting exploration of where NCAA women’s soccer (which obviously is part of what set us ahead of the world on the women’s side in the first place) appears to be at a bit of a crossroads itself.

North Carolina Courage draft pick Morgan Reid crafted a story for Players Tribune highlighting the complicated tightrope walk that being a high-level female athlete can entail. Is being considered sexually appealing a good thing (the sports information department at Duke certainly saw ways that was the case), bad thing (that it overshadowed her sporting achievements is probably not positive), irrelevant? It’s something that is so much less a consideration for men.

It’s a combination of a societal topic and one that relates directly to soccer, and there are no easy answers for anyone involved in the discussion. Hopefully, we can progress to a point where stories like this don’t have to be written for people outside of that scrutiny to understand.

Etc. Gregg Berhalter for USMNT manager? … The MLS Draft isn’t going anywhere, though a de-emphasis of it inherently means better things for soccer in our country. … Speedway Soccer Podcast coming your way soon. … I’m with Music City Soccer on the (non-sporting) importance of the Martim Galvão signing. … NSC in the top five USL teams on Twitter. … Linking this story primarily so I can use my Anthony Precourt insult tag. Also because he’s bound and determined to demonstrate on the daily that he’s just a piece of human trash.

Nashville SC signs Charlie Dennis, Ramone Howell

In addition to the major news of fan favorite Martim Galvão’s signing, the Boys in Gold added another pair of midfielders this morning. In addition, defender Oumar Ballo will not be joining the team due to a visa issue. I liked Ballo as a player, though I wouldn’t consider him an irreplaceable piece, especially with the other quality defensive talent NSC has added.

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Charlie Dennis

Dennis is a 6-2, 190-pounder from Brighton, England, who played two years at Shorter University outside Atlanta before finishing his college career at Palm Beach Atlantic. In two years at PBA, he played in 33 games, notching 15 goals and nine assists. As a senior, he went the full 90 just once (though in college, the eased restrictions on substitution make that less troublesome). The team went 14-2-2 during his senior season, falling in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and went 13-5 during his junior year.

Dennis also played for South Georgia Tormenta FC in the PDL last Summer, appearing in all 14 games with production of three goals (on 41 shots) and three assists. Against NSC U-23, he took one shot in 57 minutes in a 4-3 loss, went 77 minutes and took six shots in a 2-0 win, and recorded an assist and four shots in 79 minutes of a 2-2 draw.

Here’s the highlight reel in two parts:

Despite being a taller guy, he shows good technical ability and ball skills to dribble around opponents. He’s not the fastest in a pure straight-line race – though he appears to be one of the faster guys who’ll be on this team – but his first two steps have impressive burst (especially while controlling the ball), allowing him to get by defenders and pop out of tight areas by playing himself into space and popping past them.

He whips some pretty impressive balls from the wing or shooting from the top of the box, including on free kicks. The ball seems to jump off his left foot, too, even though there are others on the team who have a bit more power. He’s also a threat in the air due to his size – and he looks like a monster in some of his highlights. The caliber of competition will be better in USL, but with some added strength that can be a major asset to his game.

At just 22 (and not turning 23 until very late in the USL season) he’s a high-potential prospect for the future. He has the strength and skill to play central midfield, but I could also see him on either wing, either serving crosses from the left or inverting on the right to shoot for himself.

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Ramone Howell

Howell is a Jamaican Youth International who arrives from a four-year career at Valparaiso University in Indiana (if you ask my sister who used to live in Valpo, it is “just outside Chicago.” It is not.). At 5-11, 170 and 22 years old, he’s a young guy and while not tiny, not big, either.

In 16 appearances for Valparaiso, he took 27 shots – third on the team ,and tied for third with 10 on goal – but only scored one goal. He had – by a wide margin – the lowest shooting percentage of any non-zero player on the team.  In fact, shooting a lot and not scoring much emerges as a theme when you dig further into previous years: 34 shots, 11 on goal, two goals as a freshman; 42 shots, only eight on goal, one score as a sophomore; 33 shots, 14 on goal, three scores as a junior. However, he’s a timely scorer, with four out of his seven career tallies game-winners. The Crusaders finished 8-9-1 on the year (a pretty standard result during his four years, with a high mark of 10-5-4 when he was a junior).

Howell played two years in the PDL, with the Des Moines Menace in both 2016 and 2017. He appeared in nine of 14 regular-season games this year, notching just 359 minutes (40 minutes per showing), but put in two goals on ten shots. He scored in the Menace’s playoff win against the Michigan Bucks, as well, though they were beaten in the second round by Thunder Bay Chill. The previous year, he played in seven games, tking only one shot.

To the highlights (which consist entirely of one play):

As you can see, he’s helping build from the back, he manages to beat a player 1v1, then gets a nice ball forward to make a run onto it, and finishes the give-and-go. Doesn’t tell us a ton about him – though does demonstrate some really good tools to work with. I would bank on him being a defensively-minded guy who can still get box-to-box, especially since the college stats seem to indicate he has improvements to make offensively.

Nashville SC announces Martim Galvao signing

Finally, a fan favorite has landed. Martim Galvão, who led Nashville SC’s U-23 side in scoring, personalized cheers from fans, crests famously kissed, etc. is a member of the USL Boys in Gold.

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I can’t possibly imagine what made him a fan favorite. (Photo via The Roadies)

Martim Galvão

Galvão played in 13 games for the U-23s last year, notching seven goals (on just 14 shots) and four assists for a side that took 28 points from 14 games – he missed one of the draws, a 2-2 affair against South Georgia Tormenta (soon to be a member of USL D3) – and he picked up two yellow cards over the course of the season, as well. Interestingly, he almost never went the full 90 last season – which can be attributed to a number of factors, including that he was responsible for a large portion of the offensive load. The team finished third in the South Atlantic Division of the PDL, behind Myrtle Beach Mutiny and Charlotte Eagles.

In three years at Pfeiffer University, he started all 67 games he played, notching 22 goals on 130 shots (66 on goal) and 45 assists. He also picked up eight yellow cards in that time (about one every eight games). He’s seven goals shy of being on the all-time scorers chart at Pfeiffer – 29 goals is the seventh and final spot listed – but is the school’s all-time assist leader, and his 89 total points is fifth-best in school history – behind the top four goal-scorers. Pfeiffer was pretty good in his time with the school, going undefeated during his junior year (second on campus) with a 25-0 mark and capturing the D-II national title over Cal Poly Pomona. His first year, they went 17-5-1, and his final year at Pfeiffer saw him contribute to a 19-3 mark.

In case you don’t remember (or weren’t watching) last year, here’s his highlight reel from both NSC U-23 and three years at Pfeiffer:

The 5-9, 160-pounder is just a little guy, but his ball skills and exceptional touch translate very well to the next level. Of course, touch is universal, but defenders at the USL level are going to be far tougher to dribble right past than they were in PDL. He’s going to have to add to his game to continue being an effective player. He doesn’t have outstanding speed to make up for a lack of size, and will have to work on being stronger on the ball when opponents are better – or improve that speed some.

He brings good ability on free kicks as well. Though he doesn’t have a rocket, there’s plenty of power behind his ball. He doesn’t bend it much when going for goal (he had some wicked twister on corners), but can get it moving a bit. His primary asset from dead ball/set piece situations is outstanding accuracy. He picks out corners and side netting very well, and doesn’t give away his target in the run-up, leaving goalies guessing.

At 22 (turning 23 in July), Galvao is relatively youthful, but it’s important to keep fan expectations in check – especially given that he already comes in with a ton of popularity among those who aren’t discovering the team for the first time this year. The other young guys on the squad have USL or even MLS experience, or at the very least played at competitive Division-I programs in college (not that there’s a problem with D-II ball, but there’s a significant upgrade in the every-game grind of the ACC or Big Ten). He’s going to have to grow as a player, but I think he’s a nice developmental piece. There are tools there. Will he be on the inaugural MLS roster? Barring an insane improvement, no.

He could play winger (though I worry about his speed there more than I worry about size centrally), be a late game shot of energy when defenders’ legs are tired, and has something to provide as a set piece specialist at times.

NSC to announce Martim Galvao signing tomorrow?

Portuguese midfielder Martim Galvao was one of last year’s Nashville SC fan favorites – and producers, with seven goals and four assists – for the U-23 squad playing in the PDL. Will we see him with the USL side this Summer? Based on a tease from the official communications machine, that’s a yes.

That’s three pretty well-known Portuguese players. Unless you think NSC is shelling out several million dollars for Ronaldo, Nani, or Pepe, there must be more to this. Internet, ENCHANCE:

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The ghost in the machine. Or photo.

Who is this ghost of Cristiano Ronaldo’s left hip? Well, it’s clearly a player in a gold jersey with Nissan emblazoned across the front. Why, that must be a Nashville SC jersey!

Given that the new gold jerseys have remained completely under wraps to date (and not used in a game, which appears to be the situation in the photo), it must be a photo from last year. In fact, it’s the photo used to create the graphic art for season ticket sales literature.

Why am I bothering to draw this out, NSC is doing enough of that. It’s a picture of the one and only Martim Galvao.