Major League Soccer… What’s Next?

I don’t begin to think I can capture all the issues or even ensure I get it right when it comes to the state of MLS but here’s what I see as being some topics to tease and tantalize the typical fan of MLS as the off-season approaches; others may have a different view?

  • Collective Bargaining Agreement
  • Two new expansion teams
  • Chivas USA going belly up – or down the rabbit hole for two years; pick your pleasure
  • Introduction of new USL Pro Sides affialiated with MLS teams
  • General Business Operating Conditions

Working from last to first – General Business Operating Conditions:

In a phrase the league operates from an “entitlement-based” system… no penalty for poor management other than bad press.

Even more disappointing is that poor management and leadership skills are rewarded with top draft picks and more money with the allocation process.

Is that like throwing good money on top of bad money or what?

In my opinion the sooner Business Conditions better reward great management and organizational skills the better this league will compete in the World for top class players.

And likewise – the sooner all Referee’s are Professionalized the better.

If you can’t support a top officiating system how can you expect to be first class as a Business?

Especially when every business organization out there knows… you need to have great quality control and great quality assurance to make yourselves better than the competition.

Finally, video replay – not just an MLS issue – but a FIFA issue.

Every major sporting system in this country has been able to find ways of leveraging video replay more effectively in the hopes of minimizing human error in judgment calls.  With the continued abuse by players on fake injuries and time wasting can FIFA really be expected to ignore the wholesale advantages of institutionalizing the use of video replay to confirm/deny controversial calls or non-calls?

Wouldn’t it be reasonable to take the lead with FIFA to institutionalize a video replay system that sustains the ‘time integrity’ of the game (treat video replay analysis as added injury time for instance) and take time to make time to ensure the right calls are made in one of the fastest paced and most lucrative games in the World?

It’s simply NOT TOO SOON to institute the opportunity for video replay – the sooner the better.  And if there was ever a management tool to mitigate “game throwing” it’s this one!

Introduction of new USL Pro sides:

Introduction of more, new, USL Pro Sides continues to establish a minor league feeder system not unlike Minor League Baseball… geographically developed leagues where the young talent can blossom and get promoted to the Big Team without the headache of College and an NCAA system that beggars common sense.

Just convince me with at least one reasonable statement how on earth the NCAA can continue to reinforce the use of multiple substitutions in a soccer game… if there is anything out there that better represents reinforcing an ‘entitlement based system’ it’s that!  Wow…

And with the continued pressure to align US Soccer with FIFA (THE International Governing Body for Soccer) how can an NCAA system, partly responsible for developing future US Soccer players, continue to work outside the lines of eveyone else?

So yes, I see the continued development of USL Pro sides as being a superb idea to do an end-run on the complete bollocks offered up by the NCAA.

And I also see it as being an adjunct to support MLS Teams that simply don’t have the same depth of youth soccer in their geographic area as other Teams…

Chivas USA going belly up or down the rabbit hole for two years – pick your pleasure:

Let’s be clear – an entitlement based system can work but it needs constant baby-sitting when owners and top brass in those clubs simply don’t know how to function.

What’s disappointing is that the MLS is literally weeks away from an Expansion Draft for two new clubs and they don’t even know what they’re going to do with all those excess players who already have contracts with MLS but no place to work next year.

The sooner this embarrasment to MLS gets resolved the better – what remains is how the league will disperse those players or leave them high and dry.

And since MLS owns the team why on earth do they hesitate in not moving that franchise elsewhere?

Just what is the rationale for keeping a team in LA when there are so many other areas of the country that have better facilities or ownership schemes, with better organizational skills, to fully function as a franchise?

The less said here the better…

Two new expansion teams:

Congratulations are due to the owners and supporting staff of Orlando City and New York City!

Strengths – in this case the more the better as the level of competition should increase and therefore the level of intrigue and media attention should increase – with that the level of revenue should increase – all good if your looking to expand the popularity of soccer in the United States.

Weaknesses – More means less.

With more teams there may be less skilled players to continue to build a respectable league that can help the US sustain a high level of standard in feeding the US Mens National Team.

In other words – given the increase in teams, and not the same corresponding increase in skill levels, there is greater risk that the technical ability of the league will move closer to that of College soccer and further from leagues like the English Premier League (the benchmark in my opinion).

And I’d be willing to bet that if you ask any College Coach the ‘what’s up with the technical side of college soccer’?

They’d offer this… we are continuously measured (fired and hired) for our ability to win games with semi-talented players that usually drive us towards a direct attacking style of play, as opposed to a more possession-based, technical passing game, where direct attacking is a (run of play) tactic not an enforced need.

In other words – College soccer, given a poorer/watered down talent pool, usually plays more direct simply because they don’t have the skilled players, in the right areas, to play more technical based soccer.

With the introduction of two new sides, without a substantial increase in the Salary Cap, it is likely we will see an even greater gap in teams that have and teams that don’t have…

Exactly the opposite of what the College Draft and Allocation Money reward system is in place to prevent…

Collective Bargaining Agreement:

Here’s some areas where I think additional clarity/changes are needed to make MLS better:  Player salaries, What to do about Chivas USA, Changes in Allocation Money/Salary Caps, Numbers of designated players, MLS Best XI, College Drafts, and Scouting.

Player Salaries – as the volume of money increases through improved media contracts it seems only reasonable that the players will be reaping some additional benefit from that effort.

How that takes shape compared to increased expansion within the MLS and USL Pro is unclear but expect it to be a discussion point that will need to be resolved as part of the CBA.

Chivas USA – as noted earlier – a complete balls-up…  how and when and where do the players get sorted, with a two year hiatus, given that Chivas didn’t even own the players to begin with.

Do they go straight into the new sides or is there an additional ‘draft’ of sorts for the leftovers after NYCFC and OCFC take their picks?

And given the overall poor team performance exactly how many of those players are really worthy of competing for a spot in more functionally effective teams?

Whatever happens I imagine it will be sorted out either before or part of the CBA; this may include setting up an organizational process if this event might be expected to happen again.

Allocation Money and Salary Cap – a bit of a mystery there – for the most part the Salary Cap simply has to go up if this league is so sustain a growing level of talented players.  And the more teams you have the more talented players you need.

I’d expect the owners will look for a substantial increase in the Salary Cap and may even poo-poo a substantial increase in Allocation Money.  Increasing Allocation Money rewards poor management but increasing the Salary Cap doesn’t – it rewards great management more…

Designated Players – if the league is really looking to expand the skill level then it is likely more DP’s will be needed or made available as part of operating costs…  And with an increase in teams it is likely this changes; so perhaps more of the burden falls to the individual team than MLS as a whole.

And while not mentioned specfically – the number of foreign players needs to increase as well.  Limiting foreign players reinforces MLS teams having to sacrifice ‘foreign’ positions for lower skilled players that are American.

By increasing the amount of foreign players quality goes up – if quality goes up competition to make those teams goes up – that in turn should drive up the standard Americans need to play towards if they are going to compete at the very highest level.

MLS Best XI – I continue to find it highly embarrassing to this league that their Best XI is comprised of just three defenders instead of four defenders.  No-one in this league operates a 3-4-3 and only a couple of teams have experimented in this effort.  And when running a 3 CB formation (3-5-2) the wideouts, on those formations, are usually fullbacks converted to wingers.

With one of the biggest gaps in technical skills residing in the Fullback position across this league, and on the USMNT, you would have thought MLS would want to showcase the Fullback talent a bit better in this league.

College Drafts – the average age of college students completing 3-4 years of college puts them about 2-3 years behind most of their counterparts in competitive soccer – and in some cases as many as 4-5 years behind.

If college players are to have greater influence then the NCAA needs to fix the college game to match FIFA – get rid of the unlimited substitution rule and run the match according to FIFA – this may also help better develop Referee’s in this country…

Scouting – based upon what I’ve heard the MLS runs ‘scouting combines’ for players to sell their wares to every team all at once.  What is that all about?  A competitive market should be driven by who’s the best at organizing and excuting scouting themselves…  the idea of having an even playing field for scouting players is past.  It breeds entitlement.

In closing:

Plenty of activity this off-season; lots of opinions, thoughts, and postulates… mine are just a few, be them well founded, controversial, or fundamentally flawed they are what they are…

Feel free to pile on with your thoughts, rants, or raves.

Best, Chris

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FC Bayern Bullies Werder Bremen and the Bundesliga…

When a team is simply the best a picture speaks a thousand words…

CPWP Strategic Index Bundesliga Week 8

Rarely do I ever focus on just one game in my analyses but I think it’s worthy to spend just a wee bit of time on the Bayern – Bremen match to really drive home what my Family of Indices can show.

Here’s how the two teams matched up in Week 8 using my PWP data array:

Possession with Purpose Data Array Bayern vs Bremen Bundesliga Week 8

I’m not sure the obnoxious dominance of FC Bayern Munchen can be pictured any more clearly than this without some creative graphics.

So is Werder Bremen really as bad as this one game shows?

Before Week 8 here’s where they stood in the CPWP Strategic Index:  

CPWP Strategic Index Bundesliga Week 7

Sixth from the bottom, so in the space of one week they’ve gone from 6th worst in overall PWP to worst…  

I’ll call that the Bayern Bruise…  both Stuttgart, FC Koln, Paderborn, and Hamburger have felt that to some extent as well…

That being said, Bremen have played all the top teams in the Index apart from FSV Mainz and Mochengladbach – so is it any wonder their near bottom?

Hmmmm… not so sure but they have yet to play Hamburger, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Paderborn, Augsburg, or Dortmund. Most likely meaning, with the exclusion of Dortmund, some points are to be had.

Can they get them though?  I’m not so sure.

APWP Strategic Index Bundesliga Week 8

After Week 8 they are sixth bottom in the APWP Strategic Index – and yes, they have played most of the top teams in the Bundesliga – and when peeling back the attacking team performance data it’s not anemic by any stretch.

They are 7th best in converting Shots on Goal to Goals Scored (>35%)… usually that means a bit of patience to go along with a bit of time and space to get goals.

They are 10th best in having their Shots Taken be Shots on Goal (>35%)… another indicator that time and space is being created to generate accurate shots – even against some of the better teams in the Bundesliga.

They are 7th lowest in taking Shots per penetrating possession (>17%) – for the most part a lower percentage here is not a bad thing – it usually indicates patience, along with taking a bit more time to create space.

Indeed, the top team in having the lowest percentage of Shots Taken per penetrating possession is FC Bayern (11.55%).

They are also 5th best in their percentage of possession resulting in penetration (24.45%).

Where things go pear shaped is overall Passing Accuracy and Possession; they are the worst team in the Bundesliga when it comes to Passing Accuracy (64.39%) and only Paderborn has less possession (37.68% to 43.93%).

So what’s that mean?

From an attacking standpoint in and around the 18 yard box all seems very good – usually meaning they have at least one good midfielder with vision and at least one good striker who can score goals.

But, with the poor passing accuracy and overall possession it may also mean there are some defensive weaknesses bleeding over to impact that attack, like having too many turnovers in their defensive half, or/and

Playing the ball a bit too quickly out of their Defending Half, or/and

Their back line may be defending too high, or/and

Their central midfielders just aren’t good enough to control the run of play between the Defending Final Third and Attacking Final Third…

So in considering potential Defending issues bleeding over to impact the Attack here’ how they compare to others in the Defending PWP Strategic Index:

DPWP Strategic Index Bundesliga Week 8

Dead last – of course some of that may have to do with the Bayern Bruise syndrome – but even after Week 7 Werder Bremen was still 2nd worst.  So the Bruise is there but not as deep based upon Bayern as one might think.  

In terms of overall performance here’s a few observations for consideration:

Opponents average 73.25% Passing Accuracy – in other words the opponent is doing better at completing passes than Werder Bremen – weaknesses, it would seem reasonable, exist in the overall talent of this team compared to others…

We already know they are second worst in overall possession.  Now is that down to how the Coach likes to run a specific system – or is that down to simply having weaker players than the opponent?

Not sure yet – but it’s a good bet that Werder Bremen is looking to play counter-attacking football and that style, coupled with poor passing accuracy is compounding the issue.

In terms of goals scored against – even when you take the six goals out of the equation that Bayern scored – Werder Bremen still average 2.29 goals against per game.

The worst in the Bundesliga – so now only do they have a lower skill level in overall passing it would seem to be that they also have a back four – and goal keeper – who simply aren’t good enough at closing down the time and space the opponent needs to score goals.

A similar pattern appeared with Philadelphia Union this year in Major League Soccer – the solution to stop that goal rot was simply a move by the new Head Coach to have his defenders drop deeper – about 10 yards deeper to be exact.

When that happened the goals against for the Union went from 1.71 to 1.25…

In closing:

It’s still early days but eight weeks are gone and trends ARE forming – Werder Bremen is NOT showing the team indicators that point to a side who’s had bad luck – they are pointing to a side that aren’t that good…

But it’s not too early to remember that the best indicator for a team taking a nose dive in overall performance is defending – and right now Werder Bremen is not defending as well as a team should do if they expect to finish near mid-table as they have in the past.

If things continue like this it is likely this team gets relegated – and an offering up of that after just eight weeks should be enough time for the organization to make the appropriate changes to right the ship…

It’s a tough hill to climb but if 13th or 14th is to be realistic again this year then things need to change pretty bloody quick.

Best, Chris

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MLS – Week 32 – Down to One Battle (Portland or Vancouver)?

The Playoffs are all but settled barring the final team to advance out of the Great Northwest… is it Vancouver or Portland?

Given that I’ll spend a few minutes on each team offering up some strengths and weaknesses but first; as usual the Possession with Purpose Family of Indices beginning with the Composite Index:

CPWP Strategic Index MLS Week 32

Note that like last year the teams with a positive CPWP Index rating are all in the Playoffs.

In addition – the correlation (R2) of this Index to Average Points in the League Table remains .85…  better than last year’s .77.

The pear-shaped anomaly is Portland versus Vancouver, at this time…

If Portland squeak in then the Index is ten for ten…  that’s two reasons why I think Portland still advances; the other is I just simply love following and watching the Timbers play… apart from when their defense melts.

Anyhow – I digress…  the main reason why Portland is so high in this Index comes down to one thing – Attack – and like last week and for the better part of this season they are third best in their overall attack as seen below:

APWP Strategic Index MLS Week 32

The most obvious reason for this high rating is down to Goals Scored – but:

They are also 6th best in overall possession (52.12%) compared to Vancouver who are 7th worst.

That is deceiving though – worst is probably the incorrect word and here’s why.

Paul Robinson plays to a different style than Caleb Porter… Paul likes to run counter-attacking a bit more and is willing to cede possession in order to generate time and space based upon the opponent making mistakes.

On the other hand Caleb is more willing to let his more aggressive attacking scheme generate that needed time and space a bit more…

With respect to passing accuracy – not much between these two teams… Portland averages 67.35% while Vancouver averages 67.00% – that’s after 33 games and 6513 passes for Portland and 6534 passes for Vancouver…

In looking at Possession with the intent to Penetrate – Portland sits at 23.80% while Vancouver sits at 23.47% – so that pretty much means – with two different styles both teams penetrate roughly the same amount based upon almost exactly the same amount of passes.

And the differences aren’t that much as the teams look to score either; Portland takes shots 37.66% of the time they penetrate while Vancouver takes shots 35.15% of the time they penetrate.  And if you read this article you may see why the Timbers didn’t score against Real Salt Lake last Friday.

So here’s where the big difference takes shape – and the real attacking talent of the Timbers separates itself from Vancouver.

Portland average 36.33% of their Shots Taken being on Goal – while Vancouver average just 26.32%.

That difference, in overall shooting accuracy, sees Portland averaging 1.79 goals per game while Vancouver averages just 1.24 goals per game.

Yet… Vancouver are on the leading edge of making the Playoffs – why is that?  Defense.  And here’s the DPWP Strategic Index to begin to highlight the difference:

DPWP Strategic Index MLS Week 32

So what are the details?

We already know that opponents of the Timbers possess the ball less than opponents of the Whitecaps – so volume of possession is not the issue here.

In terms of passing accuracy, opponents of the Timbers average 76.09% passing accuracy while opponents of Vancouver average 77.48% passing accuracy.

What’s that mean?

Well one view, my view, is that with added possession, the opponent for the Whitecaps is seeing an increase in their own passing accuracy because they have more time and space outside the Vancouver Defending Final Third.  Those passes are easier and perhaps more frequent than those inside the Whitecaps Defending Final Third.

What about penetration?

Opponents of Vancouver penetrate 23.33% of the time they possess the ball while opponents of Portland penetrate 26.95% of the time they possess the ball.

Realistically what this is indicating is the Whitecaps yield possession outside their Defending Final Third (FAR) better than Portland.

Portland opponents have less possession, by almost 4% points compared to Vancouver opponent’s, and yet the Timbers also cede penetration by as much as 3% more…

In other words Portland’s line is probably playing too high… or their defenders are too exposed given their higher rate of attack?

There may be other reasons but those two are usually worthy ones to consider… perhaps others have a different view?

As an example… on altering the defensive line and how it can alter Goals Against can be found here: Philadelphia Union.

So how about Shots Taken per penetrating possession?

Opponents of Portland also generate more shots taken per penetration (18.16%) versus Vancouver opponent’s at 16.97%.  So, again not only is the volume higher the percentage is higher…

In addition, the opponent’s are more accurate against Portland (35.32%) in putting those shots on goal.

Whereas Whitecaps opponents put just 32.10% on goal.  And likewise here – not only is the percentage higher but the volume is higher – a lose-lose situation for Portland in comparison to Vancouver.

Finally, the Timbers opponent’s end up with 29.32% of those Shots on Goal scoring, for a Goals Against of 1.58.  While the Whitecaps are again lower with an opponent success rate of 26.17% with a Goals Against of 1.21.

In Closing:

I’m not sure the picture can be any more clear than that…

Sadly, or happily, depending on who you follow – the Vancouver Whitecaps, at this time, reinforce that a team who defends better will go further in a Championship run than a team who attacks better.

And given that complete dominance in defensive difference it’s highly unlikely that just one or two players have fixed the defense compared to how bad it was last year.

However viewed, Rosenstadt Til I Die!

Rosenstadt Til I Die

Best, Chris

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UEFA Champions League – Bundesliga Throws down the Guantlet

FC Bayern Munchen and Borussia Dortmund take a big leap in working towards the knockout stages as each sit on six points, along with Real Madrid.

Others falling in line for a push into the knockout stages include Roma, Chelsea, Monaco, Paris Saint Germain (stunner that was), Zenit St. Petersburg and FC Porto.

In seeing those results here’s how the Possession with Purpose Strategic Composite Index (CPWP) shows:

CPWP Strategic Index Group Stages Through Game 2

Of the teams with six points – all three fall within the top five of the Index,  For those on four points, each, only Paris Saint Germain falls in the negative end of the Index.

Clearly the statistical impact of playing Barcelona is painful – and the orange star above Nicosia also highlights how far down the Index they are after that 6-1 thumping in Game 1.  Yet now they’ve won their second game and sit on three points…

From a statistical standpoint the CPWP Index, correlation to average points earned, (R2) is .69 – very reasonable given only two games worth of data.

Oddly enough; and this doesn’t happen very much – the DPWP Index R2 (-.60) was slightly stronger than Goals Against (-.53); normally it’s about 5 one-hundreth’s of a point lower.

The Goal Differential R2 is .76; still the single best indicator that reflects results but doesn’t tell you anything about the internal activities of the game like the PWP Family of Indices.

Moving on – Defending PWP first:

DPWP Strategic Index Group Stages Through Game 2Like the other DPWP Indices for the other leagues I analyze – I’ve adjusted the Y axis to begin at 1.5, as opposed to 0, in order to magnify the differences between those teams that don’t perform well versus those teams that do.

Note both Borussia Dortmund and FC Bayern Munchen are 1 -2 in the DPWP Index – while Real Madrid are 11th best – is that an early indicator that Real’s attack (see below) isn’t going to get them past a much tighter defensive network offered by the two German clubs?

As for other observations – I’d say it’s pretty clear that Benfica, Ludogorets, and CSKA Moscow are toast – all three are 7th worst or worse in team defending… nevermind they all sit on nil-pwa.

Moving on to the APWP Index, with some additional diagrams to sweeten the observations:

APWP Strategic Index Group Stages Through Game 2

As noted above, Real Madrid are much better in team performance for attacking versus defending – for the most part teams that defend better advance further in competitions like these.  I’d imagine Real will need to play a whole lot tighter if they are to succeed.

And what about Barcelona?

Wow – it’s unlikely they don’t advance but it should be an electrifying wake up call that possession for the sake of possession is not going to cut it in the Champions League this year.

This league is a far cry more skilled than La Liga – a reminder on how Barcelona looks in overall CPWP for La Liga is below…  you’re not in Kansas anymore Toto!

CPWP Strategic Index Week 9 La Liga

Okay – now a few extra diagrams for your consideration:

APWP Strategic Index Final Third Passes Greater Than 132 Through Game 2

First off – here’s what the APWP looks like when you filter the teams based upon the volume of passes attempted in the Opponent’s Final Third; in this diagram here’s the teams who have exceeded (the average) of 132 passes attempted.

Those teams with red bars are those that sit on zero or one point; those with yellow bars are teams sitting on two or three points, while those with green bars have four or six points.

Of course it’s unlikely that Barcelona doesn’t advance – but the same can’t be said for Arsenal.

In this diagram Arsenal are 2nd best in APWP – when looking at the diagram for Final Third passes attempted below 132 note where Arsenal is -(last in APWP).

Clearly they perform much better when they attempt to penetrate more – that style of play where more is more in the EPL seems to translate to Arsenal doing better here too.

Whether that holds true for all teams in the Group stages is unclear – I’m sure we’ll see soon enough.

Before moving on; note that there are seven teams in this diagram who exceed 132 passes in at least one game – while four teams sit on one or zero points.

That’s not the case here where the APWP Index is filtered based upon teams/games where passes attempted in the Final Third fall below the average:

APWP Strategic Index Final Third Passes Less Than 132 Through Game 2

Only four teams here have four or six points – actually all four of them sit on four points.

I don’t know (yet) if this is more or less impacted by how the opponent dictates play – nor do I know if this is more or less impacted by how the attacking team dictates play…  More to follow on that one.

Note the high volume of teams with red bars in the lower end of APWP when pass attempts in the Final Third fall below 132 – the lone wolf at the bottom end is Arsenal – kind of reaffirming the need for them to sustain a high passing volume game in order to maximize their team attacking talents.

In Closing:

All for now – only two games in and detailed statistical analysis really isn’t worthy at this time – for the most part it is what it is…

The teams not best suited to do well in this competition are beginning to appear – Game three begins 21 October – should be exciting and the special match-ups I see might not be yours.

Here’s the ones that intrigue me given the state of affairs today:

  • Roma at home to FC Bayern Munchen
  • Barcelolna at home to Ajax
  • FC Schalke at home to Sporting Lisbon
  • BATE Borisov at home to Shaktar Donetsk
  • FC Porto at home to Athletic Club
  • Atletico de Madrid at home to Malmo FF
  • Liverpool at home to Real Madrid
  • Beyer Leverkusen at home to Zenit St Petersburg

Exactly – that’s almost all the games – well you’re right ;)

Looking forward to that round and any upsets that might occur like Paris Saint Germain beating Barcelona 3-2.

Best, Chris

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MLS – Week 29 – Gregg Berhalter – Manager of the Year? I think so…

Most should know, by now, that the top teams in MLS are queueing up for the final playoff push while others sit in dispair and wonder what’s gone wrong…

I’ll dig into that, in detail, in a few weeks – for now let’s take a look at those teams on the cusp (a whole bunch I might add) and see what we can see…

In the tradition of my analyses here’s the latest Possession with Purpose Strategic Composite Index (CPWP):

CPWP Strategic Index Week 29 MLS

Figure the West is down to two teams unless Portland completely folds with four games to go; for some perhaps not as unlikely as they’d like to admit given Will Johnson is out and Diego Valeri misses the next game against San Jose.

In the East it’s not quiet as simple – this conference has been plagued with bad team performances throughout the year – and it’s almost sickening to sense that Sporting Kansas City, a year in and year out top performer, will move to the Western Conference next year… wow – that sucks!

Be that as it may, Toronto, Philadelphia, Houston, and New York are battling for the 5th Playoff spot.

That doesn’t mean Columbus is in the clear but if ever a team deserved to make the Playoffs, in the East, it would be Columbus – one of the MOST consistent teams this year…

And that consistency of purpose has also translated to results in the league table – Caleb Porter did that with the Portland Timbers last year and Gregg Berhalter is doing that with Columbus this year…

Team performance AND results, combined, matter!

In my opinion Gregg Berhalter, hands down, is Manager of the Year!

I get it that Ben Olsen has turned his team around – but Berhalter has rebuilt his team – all Olsen has done is really find two new strikers and upgraded some defensive players – he has not rebuilt and redirected a new philosophical approach like Berhalter has.

Of course Columbus still need to make the playoffs to etch in stone that results oriented improvement matches team attacking and defending performance improvement.

Anyhow, I digress… statistically speaking the CPWP Strategic Index correlation (R2) to average points in the league table is (.83) – the highest yet this year.

Before moving on to APWP, some additional thoughts on Toronto, Philadelphia and Houston…

I watched that Toronto victory over Portland the other day and I can’t help but think how horrid that team is in overall, run of play, performance.

If the Timbers had any inkling of a defensive minded bench, and starting squad, the Reds would have been blown away – wow… but it’s about results in this league and when it came to set-pieces they got results.

As for Philadelphia – my hat is off to Jim Curtin – he’s taken the same squad, made a defensive tweak and brought them back – other than that nothing, absolutely nothing has changed between he and John Hackworth; er… other than the results – which of course stems from that defensive change — more here.

Both solid guys, both wanting to win, one took one path and it didn’t pay off – so the other took a slightly different path and it paid off…

Houston – well – they’ve been on the far side of great team performances this year more than most – what started as a good run might end as a good run – who knows – it’s a funny conference and poor performances in the East don’t mean you lose… fancy that!

Now on to Attacking PWP – here’s how they stand after Week 29:

APWP Strategic Index Week 29 MLS

A shiny example of how simply being a great attacking team ISN’T the answer in this league – too much focus by New York and Portland in attack as opposed to defending has cost them – BIG TIME… Cameron Knowles is the Defensive Coordinator for the Timbers and it’s clear, to me, he needs to go.

I’d imagine whoever the defensive coordinator for the Red Bulls is should be moved too…

Caleb Porter is a brilliant leader – and when you have brilliant leaders you don’t need ‘yes-men’ to work with them.

You need assistanct coaches with vision that looks in different areas – asks tough questions – pushes their own defensive agenda to make others in the organization to think even more, all the while stretching/pushing the added research and analysis you need to outperform the opponent on both sides of the ball…

I don’t personally know Cameron – have never even talked with him; he’s proabably a really good guy…

But it is clear, given the consistently bad defending nature/statistics/results of this team (goals against are 4th worst in MLS) the internal organizational structure to build a strong – defensive minded – thinking team – isn’t there…

If they make the Playoffs they will be lucky – very lucky; and that’s hard to say for me #RCTID!

New York – if New York gets edged out by any of those Eastern Conference teams I’d imagine Mike Petke gets sacked… the Red Bulls, like Portland, have been dodgy in defending all season long…

Sidenote:  With respect to Thierry Henry – he’s such a classy guy – I met him in the elevator at the MLS All Star game and he’s a normal guy, who respects his Head Coach, whoever that might be, and he simply plays great attacking football.

While he’s offered no indication he might retire I think he does; and unlike Landon Donovan I think Thierry is OKAY with not having his retirement, here, being made a big deal.

I’d offer a simple testamonial with Arsenal and Arsene Wenger is good enough for Henry – and rightly so – as his best footballing years came in London town!

Now about those fringe teams… Toronto, Houston, Philadelphia, and New York in the East…

  • Toronto – one of the worst passing teams in Major League Soccer – 75% across the entire pitch (5th worst in the league).  What makes this team work is Michael Bradley’s vision – a superb acquisition for MLS but is it good enough to stop the playoff-missing rot?
  • As for technical things that might have changed with Vanney taking over after Nelson got booted – I’m not seeing any… maybe things will show better at the end of the season – for now I think that bust up was about ego more than anything else…
  • Philadelphia – as noted, this team has tactically changed with John Hackworth being replaced by Jim Curtin.  Like Toronto, Philadelphia is a poor passing team – what is getting them where they are now is better defending – take note Portland!
  • Houston – on the trailing edge of good attacking and defending performances all season long.
  • As noted though – the tenor of Houston hasn’t been about leading, against teams, in attack – it’s more of a grinding team that works hard in defending and tries to take advantage of opponent weak spots when attacking.
  • Adding Garido and Beasley has helped that and you’ll see below in DPWP they are 7th worst after Week 29; yet after Week 19 they were 2nd worst – a move up the Index a full five places…
  • I’d imgine it’s that tenor that has lead to discussion about Kinnear moving to San Jose – hmmm… there’s more to that than meets the eye…
  • Anyhow, Bruin has flopped this year, and it’s likely he gets moved – and with Davis spending time with the USMNT that may have cost this team a whole bunch in leadership.
  • At the end of the day – Houston have a possible 15 points with five game remaining – all against Eastern Conference foes.
  • While it’s a long shot, if they get past New York this next weekend, I can see the dominoes fall in a favorable direction for the dynamic Dynamo – if the defense holds…  (my sleeper to push New York out…)

Moving on to Defending PWP:

DPWP Strategic Index Week 29 MLS

By the way – there’s Columbus at the top of the Defending PWP Strategic Index – and they were 5th best in APWP – for a combined 2nd best in CPWP…

Defense wins, so hopefully we see that consistent team performance carry on to the Playoffs and through to the finals!

As for the three teams (plus New York) in the East?

Team performance wise – there’s Houston sitting above New York, Philadelphia and Toronto – and six of the bottom seven teams in all of MLS (for team defending performance) are teams from the Eastern Conference – only the embarrassing, pathetic, Chivas USA are worse…

And with them taking a two year hiatus (you might as well say ‘relegated’) it’s about time that poorly organized team was dumped and replaced – hopefully they move as well!  I wonder how that impacts the Expansion Draft?

Anyhow – in the West, note that Vancouver has edged back into the higher echelon of team defending – they have FC Dallas, at home, with Seattle away, San Jose away and Colorado at home.

In Week 19, Vancouver were 9th best in DPWP – even with those two recent losses to Portland, they have now climbed to 5th best in DPWP; you don’t need to beat everybody to make the playoffs…

I can see Vancouver taking six of 12 points here.  Can the Timbers take nine of 12 points with two matches against San Jose, one against Real Salt Lake, and the final one away to FC Dallas (who will most certainly not want to finish 4th)?

Hard to say but if Gaston Fernandez can step in for Diego Valeri who knows?

For now, and I’ve not offered this before, I think playing both Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri, on the pitch, hurts the tenor of team defending on this team.

It’s almost like those two guys are too dynamic in attack and less able to motor and provide a  more box-to-box support this team probably needs in defending…

If they stay together then the upgrade at both fullback spots – plus another center-back – is really needed to keep the defense sound.  I digress…

All that said means San Jose are a likely doormat the last five games.

If Watson is elementary  in coaching the last four games he is surely gone for next year – I’d imagine he and Wondolowski and others will not want to finish the season with just six points – and that’s opining that they can beat Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto as well as take the expected three points against Chivas?

Unlikely – I’d offer Watson sees HIS team as being one that can pull 12 points out of their remaining five games – especially since their last one is against Chivas USA…

In closing:

All to play for – regardless of how things go this year – these same teams will not have these same players next year.

One thing about MLS is that variation in team composition is consistent – the expansion draft is likely to see a few teams lose at least two players – making the academy and (individual) team scouting all the more important than a ‘composite’ MLS scouting approach.

To think that this franchise driven league relies more on an overall ‘collective scouting system to get players for the league’ flies in the face of the very economic and competitive structure of this country where individual thinking, individual feeling, and individual analysis suits individual companies better to make them individually more competitive.

It’s not about the “league” anymore in my opinion – and Chivas USA, coupled with New York City FC and all that the Manchester City pedigree brings with it, has shown that.

From here on (MLSNext???) it should be about the individual team within the larger franchise.

I think it’s time for poker to go up…  MLS has arrived as a competitive league – now individual teams, and individual owners, should go out there and bloody compete on a team to team footing and may the best organization win!

And yes, Gregg Berhalter should be the MLS Coach of the Year!

Best, Chris

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English Premier League – Mid-table Maidens or Muppets?

Like the La Liga article this week I’ll be taking a look at some mid-table maidens and muppets.

And yes, I’m breaking down this week and offering up some analysis on Manchester United.

I’ve delayed long enough I guess so I’ll take a peak at them along with Tottenham, Crystal Palace, West Brom, Stoke City, and Leicester City; all of them on eight points each working from 7th to 12th in the league table.

As usual – to start things my Possession with Purpose Composite PWP Strategic Index through Week 6:

CPWP Strategic Index Week 6 EPL

In picking out those six teams Man United lead in CPWP (5th best); followed by Spurs (9th), Stoke (10th), Leicester City (13th), West Brom (14th), and Crystal Palace (16th); not bunched up like in the league table.

Perhaps there might be some telling team performance indicators in APWP or DPWP that really separate these teams?

The best way to start is to peel back all these teams in APWP:

APWP Strategic Index Week 6 EPL

The obvious – Man United rest 5th best, Leicester City, perhaps a surprise at 9th best (lest we forget that smashing pumpkin they delivered at Man United’s door two weeks ago), Spurs 11th best (or 10th worst), Crystal Palace 13th best, Stoke 15th best and West Brom 4th worst.

Now for the grist…
Key Strategic Attacking PWP Indicators Week 6

Here’s the six teams in focus plus two balancing agents – Chelsea and Burnley – the top and bottom of the EPL heap…

I could spend the better part of 800 words going over what’s offered here – I’d prefer not to and just point out a few bits and pieces before another diagram on Attacking.

  • Leicester City (blue bars) have one hell of a great parabolic relationship (follows the white dashed parabola of Chelsea going on) – and Man United do as well.  Not quite as pronounced as Chelsea but the pattern of attack is similar in team outputs.
  • The difference there with Leicester City is obviously quality  – less means less for the most part in the EPL – but all things considered not a bad form for Leicester.
  • In considering Man United – plenty of patience (like Chelsea) but the finishing is getting in the way – perhaps Wayne Rooney is not the striker this team needs?
  • Even more worrisome for Man United should be that they’ve played no-one of great concern in the EPL yet – they’ve got Everton next weekend then a potential break with West Brom (but maybe not?) then they have Chelsea and Man City back to back…
  • When looking at the pear-shaped teams it’s West Brom, Spurs, and Stoke City who best follow the pattern (black dashes) set by Burnley.
  • Crystal Palace look to follow the Chelsea parabola but appear to lack goals scored relative to the percentage of shots on goal – perhaps attributed to missing the near or far post?   Still not bad form inside the 18 yard box.
  • Those who chart Expected Goals will know that better than I.

In moving on to my Expected Wins Diagram; here’s the same teams viewing how those percentages of success translate to overall volume: 

EPL Expected Wins after Week 6

 I’ve taken the liberty of highlighting Chelsea in light yellow while highlighting Burnley in light orange.

A few items of note here without 800 odd words of observations:

  • Recall I mentioned that Crystal Palace was a bit lacking in goal scoring percentage compared to shots on goal – well in looking at all these teams, Crystal Palace average the lowest volume of activity in all these categories until – until – you get to Shots on Goal and Goals Scored…  pretty remarkable and perhaps a great example of how an effective attacking performance plays out, statistically, for a team that plays more towards a counter-attacking style than a possession based style.
  • I don’t offer Crystal Palace as being more direct given their lower volume of passes attempted in the Final Third – if their numbers were near Stoke City then I might.
  • Note that Man United exceed all the others in this scrum by a good margin with one exception – Stoke City, who has a considerably less volume in passing but ends up with a higher volume of shots taken.
  • In considering Stoke – note the drop-off in shots on goal and goals scored… even though they have the largest volume of shots taken for these teams.
  • Perhaps this is another great example of a team that looks to play slightly more direct, has less patience on the ball, and as a result, their overall productivity takes a nose-dive when it comes to scoring goals?
  • Oh – had to change the color for Chelsea to light blue given the white background…

I had a request earlier this week to offer up my Expected Wins diagram using a Logarithmic scale – as such I’ve included one below:

EPL Expected Wins after Week 6 Log Scale

The highlighted areas remain the same – but with this approach you can clearly see the negative outcomes for Stoke City and Burnley – while also seeing that the overall data collection points do have a relationship.

The healthy one is clearly the light blue bar for Chelsea – and as noted in Expected Wins 3 – this league works off of volume with the exception of Final Third Passes Attempted… losing teams (now) attempt more passes into the Final Third – pretty much reinforcing that Direct Play just isn’t good enough to cut it in the EPL.

Moving on to Defending PWP: 

DPWP Strategic Index Week 6 EPL

Man United, Stoke, West Brom and Spurs are fall above the mid-table while Leicester City and Crystal Palace are near bottom; again they don’t really bunch up in defending team performance like they do in results.

In looking at the diagram below it’s a wonder Stoke City are as high up as they are – I’ll offer up where Stoke gets hit worst a bit later – for now notice that I’ve replaced Chelsea and Burnley with Southampton and QPR:

Key Strategic Defending PWP Indicators Week 6 EPL

Measuring defending statistics is always hard to do because I have to intuit what doesn’t happen on the pitch; given the lack of clarity in separating  passes and shots between those that are hindered and those that are open… more here on that if interested.

For now the juice in 800 words or less:

  • A bad sign for me in how effective a team is, in defending their 18 yard box, is when the opponent percentage of goals scored, per shots on goal, exceeds the percentage of shots on goal, per shots taken.
  • The team who best represents a lower percentage of goals scored per shots on goal than shots on goal per shots taken is Southampton – currently in second place;  the White dotted line.
  • At this stage their differential is 19.15% – second best is West Ham at 11.71% and third best is Swansea City at 9.22%.
  • Of all the teams in this focus Man United has the best differential (+2.23%).
  • The worst of the lot is Stoke City; a differential of -21.87%; the largest margin by far… either they need a new Goal Keeper or they need better fullbacks and center-backs…
  • What keeps them on the higher end of the DPWP is lower percentages for their opponent in possession and shots on goal per shots taken – so they do a great job in looking to prevent the shots taken reach goal – but when they do reach goal they are high quality shots… I’d attribute this to poor positional play in the 18 yard box and perhaps goals conceded on the counter-attack.
  • Either that or their Goal Keeper simply isn’t that good?
  • As far as penetration goes, we already see Crystal Palace yields possession and space in the midfield – as do West Brom, Crystal Palace, and, for the most part, Leicester City.
  • With higher opponent percentages in possession – coupled with a strong passing league, it’s no wonder when the defense breaks down in the 18 yard box those teams are going to be slightly less effective than someone like Southampton.

In closing:

It should be noted that only Crystal Palace and Leicester City are on the lower end of DPWP – so these teams can score and at this stage it’s their attack that is pushing them to mid-table – can that hold?

Hard to say – one thing is, neither of those teams is as pear-shaped as Newcastle…

Still early days yet but teams are showing tactical trends, seen before in PWP analysis, that separate the possession based teams with those who like to play counterattack or more direct.

Survival of the fittest couldn’t be more clear in this superb league… speaking of Newcastle; how on earth are they so low in the Table?

More to follow on that question in a couple of weeks.

Best, Chris

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La Liga…. Thru Week 6; Establishing a stronger position or early signs of fading away?

Being mid-table – a glass half-full – or a glass half-empty?

Still just six weeks in, but there are trends that can be offered with six games, so for this week’s focus I’ll look in on Rayo Vallecano, Almeria (who I looked at in Week 3 also), and Granada.

Respectively those teams are 9th, 10th, and 11th in the League Table; all with eight points.

To get started here’s  my traditional Possession with Purpose CPWP Strategic Index after Week 6: 

CPWP Strategic Index Week 9 La Liga

First off – for those keeping track the correlation (R2) for La Liga CPWP, after Week 6, is (.79) to average points in the league table.

The three focus teams (Rayo, Almeria, and Granada) are not bunched up at 9th, 10th and 11th, here they are spread out – where Rayo is 4th best in CPWP, Almeria is 10th best, and Granada is 18th best (3rd worst) – quite a distinctive difference in team performance though the points remain the same.

In peeling those three teams back I’ll begin with APWP:

APWP Strategic Index Week 9 La Liga

For the leading side of APWP we have Rayo in 5th, Almeria in 13th, and Granada in 16th…

On taking a surficial glance first thoughts here, without reviewing the data, and using just the goals for and goals against lead me to believe that Rayo are doing a good job of penetrating, creating and scoring goals in comparison to the other two.

While at the same time they are also giving up goals as good as they get them… Rayo (10 for – 10 against) – Almeria (5 for – 5 against) – Granada (4 for 9 against)* (* more later on the asterisk).

So what do the internal team performance statistics offer for these three teams?

  • In taking a look at some standard statistics Rayo lead those three with an average passing accuracy of 77.12%; while Almeria is 74.47% and Granada is 73.88%.
  • With respect to penetration – Almeria lead those three in penetrating the opponent’s final third (~27% of the time they control the ball they penetrate) – while both Rayo and Granada hover around 17.5%.
  • Given that Almeria’s average possession percentage is ~47%; compared to 58% for Rayo and 41.5% for Granada I’d offer the more successful team in playing counter-attacking soccer is Almeria – while the more patient team in penetrating is Rayo and the least effective attacking team is Granada.
  • A difference maker, after considering the tactical and penetration characteristics, is obviously testing the waters on their successes in generating shots from penetration as well as how effective they are in putting the ball into the back of the net.
  • Rayo leads the three teams by a slim margin in shots taken per penetration (19%) – with the other two hovering at ~18%.

Not much difference in terms of overall success but in looking at the volume of shots both Rayo and Almeria average 12 per game while Granada average just 7 per game.

  • Meaning 19% and 18% equals 12 shots taken per game for Rayo and Almeria while 18% yields just seven shots per game for Granada; not ideal – especially when we know “more is better” in La Liga…
  • If you have read this article (Expected Wins 3) you’ll know this to be true for La Liga, while it is not true for other European Leagues I evaluate, at this time.
  • So how do the shots taken translate to shots on goal?  Almeria average the most shots on goal (4.17) versus Rayo at (3.5) and Granada (2.0).
  • As with many successful counter-attacking teams – sometimes fewer shots taken generate more shots on goal given the poor position some possession-based teams find themselves in when turning the ball over in the wrong place.

In wrapping up – greater possession percentage and higher passing accuracy don’t drive overall success for Rayo in comparison to Almeria – who posssesses the ball less, and have a lower passing accuracy.

  • I wonder what the Midfielder Player Radars, statsbomb develop, look like for Rayo compared to Almeria?
  • The November 29th match up against these two teams should provide a great contrast in attacking style – and perhaps one that is worthy to watch for teams scouting the success or failure of counter-attacking teams versus possession-based teams that aren’t as dominant in $$ and skills as a team like Barcleona.

That’s only one-half of a game though – and for those who think defense first – attacking team performance is the less influential half.  So how do these three teams compare in DPWP?

DPWP Strategic Index Week 9 La Liga

First off – I’ve altered the “y” axis scale to reinforce how much of a difference Barcelona has with the rest of La Liga when it comes to possession- based tactics.

Clearly Barcelona not only possess with the intent to score they also possess with the intent to defend…  for me this is a great example where – if the opponent doesn’t have the ball they can’t score…

Now for Rayo, Almeria, and Granada; Rayo is 6th best in DPWP, while Almeria is 8th best and Granada is 18th best (3rd worst).

  • * The more later on Granada:   At first glance I’d offer Granada has been far luckier in garnering their eight points than Almeria or Rayo – but – Granada just got beat by Barcelona six – nil.
  • Now that Goals Against is three instead of nine – for a +1 Goal Differential.
  • So where would Granada be in DPWP without playing Barcelona?
  • Granada would be 9th in overall DPWP if they hadn’t already played Barcelona!
  • Further up the DPWP than Almeria and only one place behind Rayo…  a GREAT example of how playing just one team – like Barcelona – can impact this Index so early in the season!
  • It is what it is… and while it may be fair to eliminate the Granada game against Barcelona (mix apples with apples) I won’t… everyone has to play Barcelona twice.
  • If the positive play of Granada continues, exclusive of Barcelona, then that will show up later on this year.
  • If it doesn’t, then perhaps this is an early signal that Granada are on a down slide?

However viewed; here’s some takeaways for these three teams, in defending team performance after six weeks:

  • Opponent posssession will be just the opposite as attacking possession – in other words opponent’s for Granada will possess the ball more than either Rayo or Almeria.
  • And even when removing the Barcelona game against Granada their opponent’s average possession is ~56% per game – still higher than Rayo (42%) and Almeria (52%).
  • With respect to penetration, Granada opponent’s penetrate at ~28% while Almeria and Rayo opponent’s gain entry ~24% – the takeaway here indicates that Granada will play slightly deeper than both Almeria and Rayo.
  • The difference isn’t that simple though – Almeria are a counter-attacking team given other indications so it’s likely the opponent’s 24% is more associated with the tactic of allowing penetration – whereas with Rayo – a possession-based team – it’s likely the opponent is gaining their penetration based upon mistakes in defending (not getting behind the ball) and those initial mistakes lead to more goals scored.

To test that – let’s take a look at Shots Taken, Shots on Goal, and Goals Scored for the opponent’s of Rayo and Almeria.

  • Indeed – Rayo opponent’s generate more shots taken per penetration (21.64%) to Almeria (20.44%) yet that greater percentage sees Rayo actually facing fewer shots taken (10.83) to (13.67), fewer shots on goal (4.00) to (4.17) yet more goals scored against per game (1.67) versus Almeria (.83).
  • Those Radar Charts might support this but might not – the funny thing about defensive statistics is that the sum of individual defensive statistics never quite matches up, one-for-one, with the volume of unusccessful passes by an opponent – see here
  • To quantify a bit differently – Almeria opponent’s average 72 successful passes, per game, in the Almeria Defending Final Third – whereas Rayo opponent’s average 55 successful passes, per game, in the Rayo Defending Final Third.
  • Lower volume, fewer shots faced, more goals scored against – a pattern I’ve seen in the MLS this year with teams like Portland and New York – teams that (when watching them play) exhibit the habits of teams who make defensive mistakes based upon poor positional play.
  • With respect to Granada – they not only face a much higher volume of opponent passes in their own Defending Final Third (115 per game) than Rayo they also yield only 1.5 goals against per game…
  • So again, another team with greater activity in their own Defending Final Third does a much better job of not ceding goals against.

In Closing:

If I had to offer an opinion here I’d suggest that in order for Rayo to continue to have a successful year they need to 1) get behind the ball a bit quicker, and perhaps 2) get a better defensive minded midfielders to work better with some (upgraded?) defenders in the back-four.

With respect to Almeria and Granada – finding the right balance between attacking and defending is always hard – it looks to me as if both teams have a prety good balance but could (perhaps?) to add a highly skilled midfielder, with superb vision, to try and eke out that odd goal that doesn’t generate undue risk on the defending side of the pitch…

Best, Chris

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If history holds, it’s likely
Noteable for all three is that only Granada have played Barcelona – Rayo have Barcelona next week while Almeria don’t play Barcelona until November 8th.

 

 

Expected Wins V3 MLS, EPL, Bundesliga, LaLiga, WC 2014

If you’ve read these two previous articles, Expected Wins and Expected Wins 2, you know I look at how teams perform, on average, (win, lose, or draw) with respect to my primary data collection points for Possession with Purpose.

What will be added, in Version 3 (V3), will be a compare and contrast between all the leagues I evaluate in my Family of Indices.

Results of looking at the diagrams and reading through my observations should help clarify analyses like (ABAC, ABCB) doesn’t really have relevance to teams that win, lose or draw – at least not this year.  (Note – two links – two different sites published roughly the same analysis)…

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not taking a personal dig at the grueling work associated with the analyses.

It has great value, but more from a tactical viewpoint in how passing is executed, not from a (bell curve) – volume/success of passing rate – relative to possession and penetration into the Final Third, that helps a team create and generate shots taken leading to goals scored; or… when flipped, leading to goals not scored.

And as pointed out by a (shomas) on the article, that surfaced on MIT, if anything, it adds predictability to what a team will do – and the more predictable a team, the more likely the opponent can defend against them better… 

For me – I would have thought the GREATER the variation in that cycle(ABAC, etc…) the better… others may view that differently?

In addition, I think there could be more value, to the information, if it was segregated by league – more later on that…

To begin – here’s a reminder of what Expected Wins looked like in Major League Soccer after 92 games (184 events): 

MLS AFTER 184 EVENTS

MLS AFTER 184 EVENTS

The term ‘event’ is used, as opposed to game, to clarify that each team’s attacking data is include in this analyses – and that the greater the volume of data points the stronger the overall statistical analyses is; i.e. sampling 15 data-stream points is not the same as sampling 1000 data-stream points.

Biggest takeaway here is the strength of correlation these seven data points have to each other (i.e. their representation – in my opinion – of the primary bell curve of activities that occur in a game of soccer)…

In every case, in every diagram that follows, all the Exponential trends exceed .947; and in every case the relationship for the winning teams is higher than the relationship for losing teams… speaking to consistency of purpose and lower variation in my view.

In general terms. this is my statistical way of showing that a goal scored is tantamount to a 5th or 6th standard deviation to the right from the normal bell cuver of activities that occur in a game of soccer.

Said another way – I don’t evaluate the tail – when measuring the dog’s motion – I evaluate the dog; recognizing that the tail will follow, to some degree, what the motion of the dog will be…  and… that even if the motion of the dog is somewhat different, the tail will normally behave in the same way.

Therefore, it’s not the tail that should be analyzed – it’s the dog… others may view that differently.

Here’s the same diagram for the MLS after 366 events:

MLS AFTER 366 EVENTS

Oh… the green shaded areas are meant to show those data points that are higher for those particular categories; in other words the Volume of Shots Taken for winning teams (after 366 events) was higher than that of losing teams – but the volume of passes completed in the Final Third was higher for losing teams than winning teams…  more on that later.

Here’s the diagram after 544 events in MLS:

MLS AFTER 544 EVENTS

Note the shift – only the volume of Final Third Passes Attempted is now higher for losing teams – all other data categories see the winning teams with greater volume.

For me, what this reinforces is the issue of time and space as well as patience – three statistics never measured in soccer (publicly at least)…  again, reinforcing, for me, that shot location only has value relative to the time, space, and patience of the team in creating that time and space for that shot.

Statistically speaking, what that means, to me, is that Expected Goals; a very popular (and worthy) statistical calculation, needs to be refined if it’s to have greater value as a predictive tool/model…  I’d be interested to hear / read the views of those who work Expected Goals efforts…

Now here’s the European Leagues I’ve added to my PWP Family of Indices analyses; first up the English Premier League:

EPL AFTER 100 EVENTS

Note that the pattern, here, after 100 events, resembles the same pattern for MLS after 544 events… worthy.

Moving on to the Bundesliga:

BUNESLIGA AFTER 72 EVENTS

A pattern similar to MLS after 366 events; will this pattern morph into something different as the league continues?  Possibly – the MLS pattern has changed so perhaps this one will too?

Now for La Liga:

LALIGA AFTER 78 EVENTS

A completely new pattern has taken shape – here “volume” speaks volumes! 

Is this unique?  Nope…  It also happens to be the same pattern as the World Cup 2014 pattern – below:

WORLD CUP AFTER 128 EVENTS

Will that pattern show itself in the UEFA Champions League?  I don’t know but we’ll find out…

So what’s it all mean? The “so-what”?

Before attempting to answer that, here’s two different diagrams plotting these data points for winners and losers  (in reverse order) for the leagues I evaluate:

LOSERS EXPECTED LOSES

WINNERS EXPECTED WINS

Now the grist:

The red shaded areas are where the losing teams’ average exceeds the winning teams’ average in the volume of those activites – the green shaded areas are highlighted for effect.  Green shaded areas for the volume of Shots on Goal and Goals Scored indicate that those numbers are virutally the same, for winning teams, in all the activities measured…

Now, back to the so-what and what’s all mean?

For me this reinforces that the “pattern” of passing (ABAC, ABCB, etc…) that gets you into the Final Third has no relevance to the volume of Goals Scored.

And, it also reinforces that different motions of the ‘dog’ will generate the same tail wagging outputs – therefore it’s the analysis of the dogs activities that drive greater opportunities for improvement.

The averages for winners in the activities measured all behave somewhat differently – granted some patterns might be the same but the volumes are different.

And when volumes change, the game changes, and when the game changes, the strategic or tactical steps taken will change – but… the overall target should still remain the same (on average) – put at least 5-6 shots on goal and you ‘should’ score at least two goals… getting to that point remains the hard part!

Bottom line here: 

These leagues are different leagues – and the performances, of the teams, in those leagues are different when it comes to winning.

Therefore, I’d offer that comparing a striker’s ability to score in one league is completely different than an expectation an organization might have in how that striker may score in another league.

Said another way – a striker who scores 20 goals in the Bundesliga, a league that shows winning teams play to a more counter-attacking style, might not perform as well in a league like the EPL; which looks to offer that winning teams play a more possession-based style.

Perhaps??? another good example… a striker playing for a team that counter-attacks, is more likely to have greater time and space to score a goal, than playing in a possession-based team where time and space become a premium because the opponents play far tighter within their own 18 yard box.

But, as mentioned before – since no-one statistically measures (publicly) the amount of time and space associated with passing, and shot taking, we can’t peel that onion back further.  I have suggested two new statistics that may help ‘intuit’ time and space – that article is “New Statistics? Open Shots and Open Passes”: here.

In Closing:

For the future…  I’m interested in seeing how these analyses play out when separating out teams who show patterns of counter-attacking, and perhaps direct play, over teams that show patterns of possession-based football.

In addition, I’m also keen to see how these take shape when reversing the filter and organizing this data based upon whether or not a team is defending deeper, or more shallow.

The filter there will come from looking at the opponent averages for passing inside and outside the Final Third…

It seems reasonable to me (others may view this differently?) that the if a team lacks goal scoring they need to find the right midfielders and fullbacks that are good enough to create the additional time and space the strikers need in order to score more goals.

And that doesn’t even begin to address the issues in defending – which statistics continue to prove year in and year out as being more critical to winning than attacking.

Given all this information, I may have missed something – I’m always looking for questions/clarifications so please poke and prod the diagrams and analyses and comment as time permits.

Best, Chris

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Expected Wins – Original

This article was originally posted very early in the Major League Soccer season of 2014, on a different site, that site has closed so I am reposting it here to sustain the history of Expected Wins.

Over the two and a half years I’ve been developing Possession with Purpose you’ve heard me go on about this game not just being about scoring goals it’s about winning. I don’t mean that in the sense that you don’t need to score goals to win; you do. But what separates winning from losing statistics wise? And if there is separation, what is it, and what value does it bring?

I’m not sure I have ‘the’ answers but I do have ‘some’ answers…

To begin here are the 7 primary data points I collect and calculate ratios with in my PWP Six Step Process analysis:

  1. Passes Attempted Entire Pitch
  2. Passes Completed Entire Pitch
  3. Passes Attempted Final Third
  4. Passes Completed Final Third
  5. Shots Taken
  6. Shots on Goal
  7. Goals Scored

I collect these data points for every team, for every game; all 646 from last year and up to 102 (61 Games) so far this year.

In looking at the data this year the below diagram offers up the averages of those 7 data points, for all games, up to the end of Week 6.

The blue bar is the overall Average for all games regardless of points earned, the green bar is the Average for all games where teams took three points, the amber bar is the Average where teams took one point, and the red bar is the Average where teams got nil-pwa.

Expected Wins PWP Data Points

Facts as they exist today after 102 games in 2014:

The table just beneath the bar graph indicates the raw numbers (averages); for example the average Successful passes for teams that lose (in the Final Third) is 73.13; their average Shots taken is 13.39; their average Shots on goal is 4.10 and their average Goals scored is .58.

Here are the percentages derived by comparing the relationship of each of these points(part of my PWP analysis) working left to right:

  • Teams that win average 50.30% Possession versus teams that lose average 49.70% Possession.
  • Teams that win average 76% Passing Accuracy across the Entire Pitch. /// teams that lose average 74% Passing Accuracy across the Entire Pitch.
  • Teams that win average 71% Passing Accuracy in the Final Third. /// teams that lose average 64% Passing Accuracy in the Final Third.
  • Teams that win average 22% of all their Passes Attempted in the Final Third /// teams that lose average 25% of all their Passes Attempted in the Final Third.
  • Teams that win average 17% Shots Taken vs Completed Passes in the Final Third. /// teams that lose average 18% Shots Taken vs Completed Passes in the Final Third.
  • Teams that win average 40% Shots on Goal vs Shots Taken. /// teams that lose average 31% Shots on Goal vs Shots Taken.
  • Teams that win average 45% Goals Scored vs Shots on Goal. /// teams that lose average 14% Goals Scored vs Shots on Goal.

Observations:

While 2% difference in overall Passing Accuracy might not mean much it should be noted as a reasonable indicator on how well a teams’ Passing Accuracy will be in penetrating the Final Third.

That 2% difference translates this way. When a team makes 500 pass attempts. 76% * 500 Passes equals = 380 Completed Passes. 74% * 500 Passes equals 370 Completed Passes.

Any one of those unsuccessful passes could be the pass that gets you that goal or leads to the Opponent making an interception (quick counter) that gets them a goal.

Perhaps it is easier to understand why some coaches say control of the game and possession adds value? Those teams that are more accurate in their overall passing are more likely to win.

In looking at Passing Accuracy within the Final Third there is a clear difference between winners and losers; winning teams are 9% better in Passing Accuracy within the Final Third… this is not about volume of passes – it’s about the accuracy of those passes.

To put that into perspective say a team attempts 100 passes in the Final Third; 71 of those passes (71%) are successful for the winning team whereas only 64 (64%) are successful for the losing team.

That difference of 7 (within the tight confines of the Final Third) could make a BIG difference; those 7 extra completed passes could be 7 through-balls, key passes, or crosses that lead to a goal versus no goal.

Note that losing teams take more shots (on average) per pass completed (18%) than teams that win (17%).

Is that an indicator that the less effective team is trying to compensate for lower skill levels/overall passing accuracy by increasing their shots taken totals? I think so.

And when looking at the ability of a winning team to put a shot taken on goal (a more accurate shot) the winning teams do that 9% better than losing teams.

And that initial accuracy then translates to a huge, if not inordinately large, difference between a team that wins versus loses; 45% of shots on goal are goals scored for winners versus 14% for losers.

Now for the second diagram and the R2 for the overall average, wins, draws, and losses with the backdrop lines being the real numbers for all 102 games this year..

The “x and y” axis represent the same things as they did in the first diagram. The Blue, Green, Yellow and Red lines represent the averages ‘in trend-line format’ seen in the above diagram with their corresponding exponential correlations.

I selected the Exponential Relationship as opposed to a Linear Relationship because I think it best represents the drop off in passes (in total) versus those just within the Final Third; the R2 will remain the same regardless.

Expected Wins PWP Data Points Correlations

Observations:

First off – all those lines are the 102 games worth of data that populate the diagram – it is that data that also formed the ‘averages’ for the first diagram…

That tight difference in R2 means there is a very tight margin of error between winning, losing and getting a draw; and if you’ve watched a game you know a single mistake can cost you three points.

However tight, there is a difference between the R2 for winning teams versus losing teams. Is that statistical difference associated with those percentage differences indicated in the first diagram?

I think so, and while Possession (itself) is not “the” prime indicator on whether a team wins or loses it is “an” indicator that should be considered, when viewing overall passing accuracy within and outside the Final Third.

Perhaps the TV pundits will take more time to show better graphics where the Final Third data (in possession percentage) is separated out from the overall possession data?

Perhaps another view that may be helpful to others is the ‘space available’ that gets leveraged in creating that goal scoring opportunity?

I don’t know if this data is representative for teams in Europe – but the data certainly supports that view for teams in Major League Soccer.

To reinforce the End State (winning) from a different viewpoint.

Last year the top five teams in volume of shots taken versus passes completed in the Final Third were Chicago, (26%), Philadelphia (26%), FC Dallas (26%), Montreal (25%) and Columbus (23%).

Only one of those teams made the MLS Playoffs – Montreal.

This year the top three teams with the highest volume of shots taken versus passes completed in the Final Third are Montreal (28%), Chicago (28%) and San Jose (26%); two of those three teams are the current bottom dwellers in the Eastern and Western Conferences.

In all this I’ve not talked anything about defensive play… more later this year on how teams perform without the ball with specific focus on defensive efforts (collectively and by individual defensive action) within the Final Third.

For now I offer these questions:

  • Do you think teams that defend better do so as a team (collectively) or is it individual actions like clearances, tackles, interceptions or recoveries that stand alone?
  • And does the general formation they play to (advertised as ‘the formation’ in the MLS recaps) show results differently in how a defense performs?
  • And does the relationship of the individual or collective defensive activities relate better to unsuccessful passes in the Final Third?

My intent will be to answer these questions, and more, as the data piles up (figure once the 17 game mark is reached, for most MLS teams, I will have enough to offer a reasonable view on what is and isn’t of value. With respect to the data discussed here – I have the 102 games here and the 646 games from last year.

When circling back to my overall PWP Composite Index – here it is put another way…

  • The Attacking Index is the relationship those seven data points have with respect to the six steps in the PWP Process.
  • The Defending Index is the relationship the Opponents seven data points have with respect to the six steps in the PWP Process.
  • The Composite Index is the difference between those two Indices.
  • This year, at this time, the overall Correlation of that analysis is an R2 of .7658 – the R2 for Goal Differential is .8729.
  • The R2 for Goals Scored is .5083 and the R2 for Attacking PWP is .5865
  • The R2 for Goals Against is -.6754. and the R2 for Defending PWP is -.6225
  • Bottom line here is that the PWP Composite Index has the 2nd highest R2. With that you should have a better feel for what goes on behind the scenes to get there as opposed to just looking at Goal Differential.
  • The more data points collected the more relevant the R2.
  • How this plays out by the end of the season is unclear but as a reminder the overall PWP Composite Index was 90% accurate by the end of the 2013 in showing what teams would make the playoffs and what teams wouldn’t.
  • And two of the top three teams in the Composite PWP Index for 2013 were in the MLS Championship Finals…
  • Starting for Week 8 my PWP-Pick-List will offer up my prognostications about a team either winning or losing… no more draws will be offered up as no one team ever goes into a regular season game wanting to get a draw. A draw is good but the intent of a Head Coach is to win first.

In closing…

The repeatable statistic in this effort is wins, draws and losses…

Expected Wins is all about what it generally takes to win a game versus lose a game; it’s not about getting a draw.

Expected Goals is an ‘effect’ relative to Expected Wins and the ‘causing’ relationship between those seven data points; i.e. the combined effort of a team as it possesses, passes and penetrates with purpose. Hence my phrase offreed up some time ago “quality beats quantity”.

And yes, set-pieces win games, and sometimes the team getting those and scoring from those does that against the run-of-play; I suppose that is why the R2 for wins, draws, and losses is so close.

However viewed, teams play to win and score goals. Various strategies and tactics may be used depending upon location, game state, game conditions, team formations, player selections, or what’s needed to move on, if in a knock-out or other tournament type condition.

It will be interesting to see how this analysis unfolds for the World Cup this year… more to follow… Here is the link on more to follow for MLS this year… Expected Wins 2 (92 games /// 184 events)

Bottom line at the Bottom: For the MLS, every team wants to win every game – those teams that are more successful in winning are those teams that:

  1. Have slightly more possession,
  2. Have better passing accuracy,
  3. Have more patience in penetrating the Final Third,
  4. Take slightly fewer shots,
  5. Put more shots on goal and,
  6. Score more goals.

Best, Chris

COPYRIGHT, All Rights Reserved.  PWP – Trademark

Bundesliga – Who’s best after four weeks?

Perhaps still too early?  I don’t think so – at least not with who’s the best – clearly FC Bayern Munchen are firing on all cylinders.  So…………

What to do?

Well, I’ll be ignoring FC Bayern Munchen in this effort because they are simply head and shoulders above everyone else…  give me about another month or so and I’ll do a special week on Bayern.

For now my focus goes to FSV Mainz (eight points), TSG Hoffenheim (eight points) and FC Paderborn (eight points).

And yes, there are games being played this week where the data you are offered will not be up-to-date —> I gotta have a stop/start point somewhere – so I chose Monday evening… :)

Now, to begin, here’s my customary link for those new or wanting a refresh on Possession with Purpose – An Introduction and Explanations…

And now my CPWP Strategic Index through Week 4:

CPWP Strategic Index Bundesliga Week 4

CPWP Strategic Index Bundesliga Week 4

I’m not sure the clarity can be any more clear that Bayern is clearly the leader in PWP.

For now it’s worthy to note that my PWP End State, ””try to match the league table as close as possible without using points”’ looks pretty good as the 6 best teams in CPWP match the six best teams in the Bundelisga League Table – not one-for-one, but close enough to again lend credence to this effort.

Statistically speaking, the correlation (R2) to average points in the league table is .75; still strong.

Will these teams stay in these positions as the season wears on?  Maybe Bayern will but the others?  Probably not – but it helps to begin peeling back info on certain teams now to get a better sense of their progress (success or failure) for the future…

Anyhow – time to peel back the attack of Hoffenheim, Paderborn, and Mainz in my APWP Strategic Index:

APWP Strategic Index Bundesliga Week 4

APWP Strategic Index Bundesliga Week 4

It should be worthy to note that Hoffenheim, Mainz, and Paderborn fall below Werder Bremen, Hertha Berlin, and Wolfsburg – in short what that means is the three teams I’m focusing on have better team defending performances than those other three teams… 

Defense usually wins out when both teams are good in attack – so it will be interesting to see how these teams compare as the season progresses; for now here’s some key attacking statistics I’ve seen w/r/t Hoffenheim, Mainz, and Paderborn:

  • Passing Accuracy – a surprise here for me is that all three of these teams, average in passing accuracy, falls below the league average of 74.13%; Hoffenheim ~66%, Mainz ~72%, and Paderborn ~71%.
  • At first glance, without watching any of their games, I’d offer these three teams tend to play counter-attacking football where the intent is to take advantage of the opponent getting out of position.  Another indicator to support that is overall possession – Mainz sits on ~49%; while Paderborm and Hoffenheim are lowest and 3rd lowest in the Bundesliga, respectively (37.69% and 42.96%).
  • Without looking ahead, a key indicator to me that supports my initial view is the volume of passes the opponent has in their Defending Final Third – more later…
  • In terms of Shots Taken per penetrating possession – Hoffenheim are below average (resembling teams that I’d attribute the word patience to) at 15.38%, while both Mainz and Paderborn are slightly above average (21.75% and 22.03% respectively).
  • When it comes to converting Shots Taken to Shots on Goal – Hoffenheim, again, is below average (~28%) while both Mainz and Paderborn are above average (~48% and ~38% respectively).
  • In looking at Goals Scored – all the teams are above average with Hoffenheim the highest (~60%) – while Paderborn is next up at ~40% and Mainz (9th overall) at ~33%.

What’s all that mean?

  • Well it appears to me that Hoffenheim best represent a team who counter-attacks but does so with caution/patience – in other words there isn’t as much ‘abandon’ in their run of play when penetrating…  i.e.  they look to catch their opponent out of position, and when they do they are very good at executing in that small window of opportunity.
  • Perhaps someone who watches Hoffenheim more closely can add some thoughts in the comments section?
  • With respect to Paderborn and Mainz; again, without seeing them play, I’d offer they adopt a slightly riskier (more direct?) approach to penetration when they can.
  • And that increase in risk may drive down their patience and accuracy in creation and generation of shots – which in turn drives down their efficiency in goal scoring based upon their volume of shots on goal.

It should be noted, however, that all three teams have eight points after four games – and given those apparent strategies is it surprising to see that FSV Mainz and Paderborn drew 2-2 the first game of the season?

In moving on to my DPWP Strategic Index:

DPWP Strategic Index Bundesliga Week 4

DPWP Strategic Index Bundesliga Week 4

Recall that Hertha Berlin, Werder Bremen, and Wolfsburg were all stronger in APWP than the three teams I’m focusing on this week – when viewing DPWP, Hertha is bottom, Werder Bremen is 2nd bottom and Wolfsburg are almost near mid-Index…

On the other hand Paderborn, TSG Hoffeneheim, and FSV Mainz are all in the top half… kind of continues to reinforce that a team who defends better will get better results…

So here’s a look at the volume of passes and passing accuracy percentage for their opponent’s in their Defending Final Third.

  • Here, I expected these numbers to be slightly higher than others – to indicate some ceding of possession and space higher up the defending final third.
  • Of the three, Paderborn had the lowest percentage of opponent penetration in their defending final third (19.46%) while ceding the 6th highest volume of passes in their defending final third (131 per game)
  • Hoffenheim yields the 5th highest percentage of opponent penetration in their own defending third (24.68%) while yielding the 4th highest volume of passes (134.50 per game) in their own final third.
  • Mainz yields the 6th highest percentage of opponent penetration in their own defending third (24.40%) while yielding the 11th highest volume of passes in their own defending final third.

All told it would appear that all three teams do cede possession and penetration into their defending final third more than most other teams.

In looking at the bottom line (opponent goals scored per game) Hoffenheim average .5 Goals Against while Mainz and Paderborn (before the Bayern thrashing) averaged 1.00 Goals Against per game.

In Closing:

What is missing?

  • Borussia Dortmund… wow – talk about a slot start.
  • How well these teams perform on the road versus at home – not enough data yet really.
  • How each of the teams do against FC Bayern Munchen – playing Bayern will (usually) negatively impact performance.
  • Actually being able to watch the games to pulse the statistical expectations based upon lessons learned from tracking statistics and watching the English Premier League and Major League Soccer – this is where I need your help.
  • Overall, simply more data – it’s almost rude to expect that four games of data is going to provide anything other than a great start point to begin trending as week 12 or 13 approaches.
  • Can you Adam and Eve it on this strike by Moritz Stoppelkamp, a player from FC Paderborn, – statistics simply can’t account for a goal scored like that!

Next up a look at La Liga and then Expected Wins 3… a statistical look at differences between teams that win, lose or draw in the EPL, MLS, Bundeliga, La Liga, that includes a review of the World Cup 2014 outputs…

Best, Chris

COPYRIGHT, All Rights Reserved.  PWP – Trademark