The Ride Continues – Timbers MLS Championship Run


“The atmosphere in Providence Park is the best atmosphere in MLS” – attributed to Brad Freidel

Wow – what a game and what a season so far!

We’ve seen some pretty remarkable events this last year – suffering an all time low with a crushing 5-nil loss to LA Galaxy in June and then a diametrically opposed (perhaps best ever) 5-2 victory against the very same LA Galaxy not four months later…   parity anyone?

So where do we stand today?

Just one game, one tactically sound game, from advancing to the MLS Championship…


It’s worth a look again!  Dairon Asprilla’s rope.

Okay, that said, it’s time to move on…

There’s a job to do and it isn’t finished; cinch the ropes a bit tighter and go for another ride.

In mounting that bull recall this one word that has best described MLS this year – parity…

Yes, the very same word that applied to the Timbers getting into this position is the very same word we should consider as this weekend approaches.

Don’t be misled by that 3-1 win… FC Dallas are a dangerous team, a very dangerous team.

And in understanding that, Caleb Porter has much to consider in how he sets the tone and tenor of his team this week.

I’d offer there are some very tough questions he and his staff will be asking themselves as they prepare.

Diego Valeri

Does Diego Valeri start?  

While many, if not most, probably don’t think this is a worthy question I do.

If Diego Valeri doesn’t start Caleb probably runs with the same eleven that got him the three goals and the win this past weekend (relying on the old adage that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it).

On the other hand Diego Valeri is… well… one of the best players in a Timbers uniform.  So – to be realistic – it’s likely Diego Valeri starts.

Caleb Porter

In considering that, how does that change the midfield with respect to running a single pivot versus double pivot?

This is a tricky question because the maturity of Darlington Nagbe (in playing box-to-box) kinda means the addition of Diego Valeri doesn’t mean Caleb is overtly committing to 5 attackers.  For me it really means Darlington Nagbe kinda takes on a quasi Jack Jewsbury/Will Johnson/Diego Valeri role.

Nagbe Bags a Whale of a Goal

In other words he leverages his skills as a great passer, with a great first touch, plus he uses his innate ability to turn and make space for himself (as well as others) while also showing improved recovery capabilities in addition to better vision from a deeper position; recall those through-balls he offered to Lucas Melano in the first 15-20 minutes.

What the change to a single pivot really means, for me, is a slightly different workload for Diego Chara.


How is it different?

I’m not sure I can completely scratch the itch on this one given I don’t know the in-depth tactics but it appeared to me that both Diego Chara and Jack Jewsbury had a rotating leadership role in closing down the wings when Dallas penetrated the final third.

Who lead that initial response looked to me to depend on which player was best situated.  In other words if Jack was deeper and closer to the area being penetrated he closed down first; if Diego was closest he responded first.

Whoever was second took the role of managing the space around the corners or middle of the 18 yard box as well as providing direct support if the other player got beaten.

With Jewsbury off the pitch, and Darlington Nagbe usually working a little bit further up the pitch, it means Diego Chara will probably have the lead on closing down no matter which side of the pitch is penetrated.

This, in turn, probably means Diego will have more of a sustain and contain role as opposed to trying to regain possession at the earliest opportunity.

That sustain and contain role then allows Wallace/Melano/Asprilla/Nagbe to then take on the secondary response role that Jewsbury would normally be asked to do.

So in going back to try and answer the question on running a single pivot versus double pivot it gets even more complicated as the wingers are likely to have a different role as well.

Which leads to this question.

Lucas Melano

Does Lucas Melano start in lieu of Rodney Wallace?

Before answering the question I think it’s worthy to note the value Melano added in attacking and defending without knowing his prescribed role last game.

All told he made some superb penetrating runs and provided good support in defending behind the ball – not a bad game even though he had another great opportunity to score.

Bottom line is Lucas used his strengths to create and make space for others while also adding value in applying some forward pressure that lead to a poor pass by Dallas, which in turn led to that golazo by Asprilla; sometimes the success of a player is not measured by goals but by how he helps create and make space for others to score goals.

That said we still need to try and answer the question… 

For me, if Caleb runs the single pivot Rodney Wallace gets the head nod – if Jack Jewsbury starts in lieu of Diego Valeri then Lucas Melano gets the head nod.

Is it as simple as that?   Probably not, but with Asprilla/Nagbe/Wallace/Melano all having increased defensive responsibilities with the single pivot, and Diego comes in to add a player who is more attack minded than defensive minded, it really kinda means Wallace is more likely to start given he shows a bit more grist in defending.

Said another way – Caleb needs to sustain a balance in attacking and defending; that balance is more attack minded with both Melano and Valeri on the pitch; so…..  Rodney should get the call as it’s likely Diego Valeri starts.

Liam Ridgewell

Is Liam Ridgewell injured and can he play?

I don’t have the answer to that but here’s what I would offer.

If Ridgewell is slightly injured, and there is a chance he might have to be subbed given a recurrence of that injury, I’d offer serious consideration is given that he doesn’t start.

That may not be the popular move but if you, as a Head Coach, can save a substitution for a game state not intended, then going with the known is usually better than going with the unknown.

In closing:

In circling back to FC Dallas – they remain a dangerous team.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Oscar Pareja flip which sides Castillo and Barrios attack from to show a different look in attack.

Dallas love to penetrate the wings and create opportunities for cut-back passes into open space atop or around the corners of the 18 yard box or penalty spot.

And if they weren’t successful in doing that with Barrios on the left side last game it seems reasonable they’ll try him on the right side this game.

Bottom line here, for the Timbers, it’s all about managing the space and time when FC Dallas have the ball – figure defense first with a tangible attack that creates solid opportunities to score goals.

Have a great thanksgiving weekend and get ready to ride the bull again!

Best, Chris

Jason Kreis

New York City – For Kreis Sake?

Much could be subjectively offered here on the strengths and weaknesses of Jason Kreis and the decision by New York City FC to sack him; but not knowing the details behind the decision means it’s not worthy to comment.  

Instead – some analysis using the foundation of Possession with Purpose – on the why and how those team performance statistics highlight some issues that their leadership may need to address now that the season has ended.

A few caveats:

The overall PWP Index correlation, to points earned in the league table, wasn’t quite as high this year (.76/2015) as in previous years (.84/2013 & .85/2014).

I put that down to greater parity – meaning teams that didn’t possess the ball (as much) or teams that had lower passing accuracy (across the entire pitch) were just as likely to take three points as teams that didn’t.

Finally, there is no intent to point out individual player performance here either – like having no awareness of internal decision-making I also had no access to witness training sessions nor the in-depth tactics Kreis asked his players to perform.

To start – New York City fell into a category of teams who possessed the ball with higher than average passing accuracy (3rd highest and 6th highest respectively).  

Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports


That 3rd highest in possession translated to 2nd highest away from home and 5th highest when playing at home.

Only New York Red Bulls and Columbus Crew exceeded them in overall possession.

In terms of passing accuracy they were 4th highest on the road and 9th lowest at home.

To put some additional context to this – like last year – eight teams averaged more than 50% possession this season; three of them failed to make the playoffs – New York City, Real Salt Lake, and Orlando.

Those same three teams were also in the top ten for passing accuracy – and as in possession – they were the only teams who didn’t make the playoffs out of those top ten.

But high percentages in passing accuracy and possession don’t necessarily mean you make the playoffs – this past year all three of the top three teams out west failed to exceed 50% in possession and only Portland finished in the top ten for passing accuracy.

So is the demise of New York City, not making the playoffs, down to poor attacking?  No…

Overall, they finished in the top ten of the APWP Index and nine of those top ten teams made the playoffs.

In conclusion, I sense it’s reasonable to offer that their combined quality, with respect to possession, passing accuracy, penetration, shot creation, and goals scored per shot creation, was good enough to get them in the playoffs but it didn’t.

Meaning there is need to look elsewhere… Team Defending.


When viewing defending team performance indicators the one that sticks out the most is New York City allowed their opponent’s the highest percentage of shots taken per penetration.

Even more disturbing, is even though opponent’s had the third lowest overall possession they also had the highest volume of shots taken…

In other words, their opponent’s didn’t have much of the ball, but when they did, they not only created quality shots per penetration they also generated the most shots regardless of volume in penetration.

So in terms of both quality and quantity New York City were left wanting in defending, and those opponent totals lead to the highest goals against, per game, in MLS (1.76).

But like possession and passing accuracy, my intent isn’t to pidgeon-hole one or two specific team performance indicators but to look at the breadth and depth of overall team performance in defending.

Overall, New York City were 8th worst in team performance defending.

And of the bottom ten teams in the Defending PWP Index only five made the playoffs.

Of note – the top four teams in the DPWP Index were Seattle, New York Red Bulls, FC Dallas, and Vancouver.

And all four of those teams made the playoffs with New York Red Bulls and FC Dallas tying for most points earned in MLS; defense matters… even in a league rife with parity!

New York City moving forward:

The big picture:

First things first – just because Manchester City is extremely successful in a possession-based attack doesn’t mean that same tactical philosophy works across the pond.

Major League Soccer is NOT the English Premier League – parity thrives to a far greater extent in this league than in England.

Meaning – from my viewpoint – if New York City is going to continue to work towards a possession-based style they will need to find better defenders and midfielders who defend without the ball as well as with the ball.

And with a number of foreign players already in the mix, it’s likely those new players may need to be Americans!

So here we potentially have an organization, founded as part of the Manchester City organization, one with an extensive pedigree in developing players, that is most likely going to have to find Americans to bolster quality (in defending as much as attacking) as they look to improve their possession-based attack where passing and first touch are a premium.

Others may disagree, but I think that bodes well in this country – and – eventually – it should help strengthen further development for our national team.

The little picture:

Changes in players are needed – who goes and when and who replaces them is not for me to figure out – but given the pedigree of the Manchester City statistics and scouting department I imagine they’ve got a few players in mind.

As for Jason Kreis:

There are a number of different paths forward for this very good Head Coach – perhaps he gets picked up by Chicago?  I’d imagine everyone who follows #CF97 would love to see that.

Or perhaps another twist – Jason returns to Real Salt Lake – or…

As we spoke about on the Yellowcardedpod the other night, with Thomas Rongen, maybe Sigi Schmid retires and Garth Lagerway calls on Jason Kreis to lead Seattle?  Personally I hope not (#RCTID)

It was good to see Jason Kreis move to the Eastern Conference – if you ask me Chicago is the place to be – not that city up north from Portland.

However viewed, I don’t think Jason will remain out of employment very long.

Best, Chris


Caleb Porter

Vancouver and beyond???

While the result, and how that result was achieved, will certainly not be lost on the soccer world I do feel and think there is a cause for concern to consider as the Timbers prepare for Vancouver, and beyond, this Sunday.

Lucas Melano

The decision to replace Lucas Melano with George Fochive in the 85th minute.

As a caveat, this view is not intended to be a player-specific critic – but more about the general team performance (reaction) given the substitution, what might be drawn from it, and how the impact of that substitution might influence decisions made as the playoff run continues.

And no – no heat maps or passing charts – you need video analysis for this assessment.

In watching the overall tenor of the game (before and after the 85th minute) I’d say the ability of Sporting to possess and penetrate was better, not worse, after George Fochive came on.

George Fochive

And for most of us this shouldn’t be  a surprise.

Throughout the course of this season the Timbers have played somewhat deeper (ceding possession) in working a double-pivot tactical strategy that plays more to counter-attacking than possession-based attacking.

This approach has been a two-edged sword; usually the opponent comes away without scoring a goal, but alas, so it also goes for the Timbers.

That said, unfortunately, we have seen some teams win – and win big – (Philadelphia, FC Dallas, and LA Galaxy come to mind).

So should we really be surprised that Sporting got the equalizer near stoppage time and a second goal in extra time?

I don’t think so, and that remains a cause of concern for me as the Timbers move forward against Vancouver, and beyond.

First off – I sense it is reasonable to expect that over the course of a season, when playing one basic tactical approach, players will develop patterns of behavior (on field habits) that they’ll play to, regardless of some finite, tactical adjustments made by the head coach during the game.

In addition, it’s my belief that the tactical move to replace Melano had a negative impact on Darlington Nagbe’s ability to influence the game – if the Timbers are working towards more attacking, and possession-based ball movement with five attackers, then it stands to reason they’ll be doing less of that with four attackers.

Meaning Sporting is going to have more of the ball.

So, when you’re up one goal with less than 15 minutes to go, at home, do you really want to set the conditions for the opponent to tactically, by default, and through general pattern of behaviour, have more of the ball?  Not really…

In thinking about this game it brings to mind an example of what I mean.

Recall the devastating draw the US Men’s National Team had with Portugal in the 2014 World Cup.

Jurgen Klinsmann made (in my view) a decision that was also cause for concern, that many missed.

He pulled Graham Zusi and replaced him with Omar Gonzalez – in other words he pulled an attacking midfield player, on the left side, and replaced him with a central defender.

This decision meant (tactically) the US Men’s National Team had no-one occupying, and therefore defending, the same exact zone where Ronaldo delivered the cross that got Portugal the equalizer.

Almost the exact same thing happened last night…

Melano got pulled and replaced with Fochive.

In turn, after the initial corner ball was cleared (to the zone one might expect Melano to patrol after a defensive clearance) Zusi delivered an equalizing cross where he was under absolutely no pressure – he had clear time and space to deliver his cross just like Ronaldo had against the US Men’s National Team!

But the real issue here isn’t that specific example, it’s bigger than that and also cause for concern; especially if this (up one goal) scenario occurs again.

So while all the hoopla goes towards the stunning, and heart stopping result, of yesterday Caleb Porter has much to consider.

For me, I think it’s worthy that the Timbers will be conducting some in-depth video analysis to better understand (throughout the entire game) how the impact (and influence) that Melano had on the game compared and contrasted with the impact (and influence) Fochive had on the game.

And I don’t mean with respect to the individual player’s and their execution but with respect to the overall tenor of team performance, in attacking and defending, for both Portland and Kansas City.

Bottom line here:

The game had a great scoreline, with the players and tactics used up to the 85th minute.  Did the change in tactics (with that player substitution) alter the construct of the game enough to create a condition where Sporting may have been more likely to score a goal?

I think it did but my view isn’t the one that matters.  So as an analyst – I would submit that question needs to be asked – and I sense Caleb will do that.

In closing:

Perhaps another, less talked about decision, was Caleb Porter’s decision to open in a single-pivot.

For me, that sets the stage on his intent to continue with that approach, as a first choice option; others may view that differently.

And while I think and feel that is a very reasonable path forward, in battling the teams who like to counter-attack, I also think it’s sets the stage for future player decisions.

By that I mean, if you run (by choice) a single-pivot, do you really need five central defending midfielders on your roster?

And can you sustain a reasonable attacking path forward with just two players (Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri) who can command the attacking responsibilities associated with that approach?

I’d say no…

So all the while the playoffs are happening there oughta be someone in the front office looking at attacking central midfielders to shore up what appears to be a very good tactical shift on the part of Caleb Porter.

Best, Chris




Caleb Porter

Portland Timbers and the MLS Playoffs

It’s the final game of the regular season in MLS and those of us in Portland are hopeful the season continues.

In preparation for tomorrow a couple of questions come to mind given their latest form as well as their overall performance this year.

First off – and perhaps foremost on everyone’s mind is the answer to this question – will the Timbers trot out in the most recent formation given the comprehensive win in LA and the very solid performance in Salt Lake?

  • No…  for a couple of reasons – the one most reasonable to share with you is this one – the best 11 players Caleb indicated he’d rely on to start this game don’t fit the single pivot.
  • Those best 11, in my view, at this time, are Jorge Villafana, Liam Ridgewell, Nat Borchers, Alvas Powell, Diego Chara, George Fochive, Rodney Wallace, Lucas Melano, Fenando Adi, and Adam Kwarasey.
  • No Michael Nanchoff?  Aye; and not because he isn’t a good player.
  • For Caleb it’s down to evidence of information in team performance throughout the course of the season.  Be it good or bad Michael simply doesn’t have quality minutes and a portfolio of games played to substantiate he’d be able to start and replace what Diego Valeri can bring in such a huge game.
  • So the recourse is to rely on George Fochive, working with Diego Chara, while Darlington Nagbe steps in as the attacking midfielder.  As to where Rodney Wallace and Lucas Melano line up – figure that one is more about setting up the best individual match-ups that take advantage of the opponent’s weaknesses or mitigate their strengths.
  • So – hypothetically – what if Diego Valeri hadn’t drawn the silly yellow?  Yes, it is likely the best 11 players would have led to Caleb leveraging the single pivot.

Second – is Caleb Porter likely to overlook Colorado as an easy victory?

  • No… for a couple of reasons – the one most reasonable to share with you is this one – Caleb knows that parity runs rampant in this league and as just proved last week anyone can win anywhere – who’da thought five goals?
  • I could offer up a couple of team performance statistics to support that claim but the one most are familiar with is my Possession with Purpose Index.
  • To set the stage for this game I think there is value in looking at 2013, 2014, and then now (week 33 of 2015).

First off 2013:

End of Season 2013 MLS Coaching Changes

Note the number of teams falling in the range of +/- .05 (6 of them) while the difference between first and worst is .60.

A couple of other thoughts while looking back at 2013:

  • Note the different colored stars – the red stars indicate coaching changes where the coach was sacked and the yellow stars show where a coaching change was made mid-season.  Not pictured, but relevant to the question of parity, is the correlation (r) of this index to points earned in the league table – it was .84 – pretty high and the highest index correlation of any index in modern day soccer.
  • Also note that the Timbers finished at the very top of the Index – most would agree the Timbers were very much a possession-based team that looked to control the tempo of the game through possession, passing and quality penetration leading to quality shots, shots on goal and goals scored.

Next up is the end of season CPWP Index for 2014:


Note the number of teams falling in the range of +/- .05 (2 of them) and like 2013 the difference between first and worst is .60.

A couple of other thoughts while looking back at 2014:

  • While there aren’t any stars on this index it should be noted that Chivas USA is now defunct and that Houston, Toronto, and San Jose sacked their head coaches while Montreal and Chicago sacked their head coaches, roughly mid season, this year.  Also note the (r) (incorrectly labeled R2 here) is .85.
  • Meaning that in both 2013 and 2014 the overall quality (performance of a team relative to percentages in possession, passing, penetration, shot creation, and goal scoring) of a team had a very good correlation to that team earning points.
  • For the Timbers:  Note the slight drop compared to 2013.  If you followed my analysis of 2014 you’ll know the defense wasn’t that sharp to begin and Caleb had to adjust the depth of his back four and the general tenor of the attack.
  • In doing this the Timbers dropped deeper in the final third of the season (probably not soon enough) and began to play a bit more direct (as a real attacking option).

Now to 2015:

MLS Week 33 CPWP Index

Notice the number of teams falling in the range of +/- .05 (10 of them) while the difference between first and worst is .41.

This pretty much means that the overall team performance (the composite percentages in quality from start to finish) are separated by less than 5% for 10 teams – compared to just two teams in 2014 and six teams in 2013.  So for me that means more teams are more equal, in quality performance, than in previous years.

And the difference between first and worst has dropped 19% moving from .60 to .41.  This difference, for me, means the overall quality of performance between the worst to the first team is smaller, and that smaller equals greater parity….

A couple of other thoughts about 2015 relative to what we’ve seen in previous years:

  • This year we’ve seen much more in the way of direct play – especially for teams in the top half of the table.
  • Note FCD is fifth best here but tied with the Red Bulls for the Supporters Shield.
  • Also note that both DC United and Vancouver are much further down the index – another indication that teams playing more direct (as in with more of a counter-attacking approach that cedes some possession) are earning more points than 2013.
  • Last but not least – the leading indicator for all this, if you will, is the (r) – the correlation of the index to points earned.  It’s .71 – a full 14% points different from 2014 and to me the statistical indicator that substantiates parity.
  • How about the Timbers?  Instead of being first (2013) or third (2014) in the index they now sit 10th… and they play more direct.  Two other teams who’ve also seen a considerable shift in their index position are Sporting KC and Real Salt Lake; their drop in this index is just as considerable as the Timbers – so statistically – the data is representative.
  • Finally, the other trend on head coaches, as noted both Montreal and Chicago already sacked their head coaches.  If the index continues to be a leading indicator then it’s likely we see a coaching change in Philadelphia as well as Colorado – and – perhaps – if things don’t change we also see a coaching change in Houston and Orlando some time next year?

Third – What was the second half speech about?

  • I didn’t ask Caleb this – members of the media want there to be something special said when it’s highly likely nothing special was said at all.
  • When a team has a 1 goal lead or deficit it is highly unlikely a coach will make major changes to their game plan or make a major speech that ‘motivates’.
  • There may be tweaks here and there to tactics but to expect that there’s a magical phrase or two that can better attribute a five goal outburst is bollocks.
  • And speaking from personal experience – the real tactical changes (when down 1 goal) are more likely to manifest themselves on or around the 60 minute mark – and maybe as late as the 75th minute mark – not at half time.
  • For a head coach to make major adjustments at the half it means he’s failed to establish an effective game plan to begin with or he’s simply selected the wrong players to play the tactical approach he’s selected.  And when that’s the case the scoreline is more like being down two or three goals – not one goal – especially a one-off goal like Keane scored.
  • So for the media to perpetuate something magical happened (in the locker room) that lead to five goals in a span of 25 minutes is silly…


I hear talk of MLS media beginning to develop their votes for player award selections at year end…

Liam Ridgewell

If rumor is true that Liam Ridgewell is to garner some votes as defender of the year then don’t count me in as a supporter of that.  If anything he’s been the most inconsistent defender this year.

Jorge Villafana

My vote goes to Jorge Villafana – he’s a hard worker who’s got a huge responsibility and many folks simply have no idea how valuable he is in allowing Caleb Porter the flexibility to play a guy like Lucas Melano.

Darlington Nagbe and the USMNT – Word has it that Nagbe will soon be called up.  While some may disagree I don’t.

Nagbe Bags a Whale of a Goal

The USMNT needs a possession-based player.  Their current attacking form is pathetic and has shown no real improvement in the four/five years Klinsmann has led the team.

By bringing on Nagbe the USMNT gets a guy who can accurately pass the ball while also offering up the ability to dribble-drive.  In other words he offers something not currently present in the USMNT midfield.

Best, Chris

Using PWP as a Youth Coaching Tool

Since the inception of Possession with Purpose one of my goals was to try and develop a strategic set of indicators that can be used to assess team performance in both attacking and defending.  

The idea that it would garner the global interest that it has is unexpected – since publication the approach has been presented at the 2014 World Conference on Science and Soccer and the accompanying academic paper is scheduled for publication later this year through Routledge.  Needless to say I’m pretty ‘chuffed’ with those results.

But here’s the thing – I didn’t create my analytical approach for publication, I created it to be used by those who teach/coach the game of soccer to our youth.

Bottom line for me is an approach like this is intended to reinforce two things – 1) soccer is more than a sport it’s a passion, and 2) there really is more to this team sport than simply scoring goals.  And our youth will never – ever – get better if all they think about is being the one player who scores the goal!

So where am I going with this?

Over the course of the last three years I’ve been approached by three different youth organizations, or coaches who coach youth soccer.  In those discussions the coaches wanted to take my approach and apply it to their team.  Needless to say I was interested in how those efforts took place and offered that I would publish an article, at their behest, to document their observations (un-edited) on the approach and how they gained value from the approach.

So that said, Mr. Carr has provided me this feedback for your consideration.  What follows below is a direct quote from his document he sent me today:

I’d been keeping rudimentary statistics for my son’s club teams since his last season of U9 Academy. At first it was something I did because of my interest in sports statistics, and it kept me occupied during games instead of getting too engrossed in the game like some parents get.

But the stats I was collecting weren’t telling me anything other than what was obvious: goals, shots, etc. Then I read Chris’ Possession With Purpose, specifically in his blog post, “Getting Better as a Youth Soccer Coach”. In my son’s second U10 season I began to track events in the game as stated in that article and was able to not only track more events during games, but was able to identify trends in our own team as well as the opponent for future reference.

​I track each game live (no video review) so I may miss an event here or there, but it doesn’t really affect the overall trends. I share each game’s stats with the coach after each weekend, and also when I identify any trends that he might find useful in what he instructs. He loves the information and builds elements of it into his training plans.

For example, when I first started tracking I noticed we were letting too many pass completions in our defending third and he worked more on defensive positioning, anticipating passes and closing down defenders to some good results. He can also see how the stats correspond to what he observes during the game.

We don’t share the information with players because they’re too young to really grasp it yet, and he feels it interferes with them focusing on the important items of individual player development (touches, foot skills, patterns of play, etc.) For older youth players it may have more value to the players themselves. We mainly use it to identify points to work on and to establish a general style of the opponents we play for future reference.

It hasn’t been shared outside of our team yet because I wanted to get enough data first to see how it worked with our team.​ I do share with a couple of parents on our team who are stat junkies like me and they like what it shows. Sometimes it tells a story that contradicts what they saw at the game themselves. The great thing about PWP is that it’s team based — even though I track individual stats they aren’t the focus; it’s the team stats and trends that reveal the most about each game and season.

What I’ve been able to determine from our team over roughly 30 games is that total possession and passing accuracy don’t mean as much as you’d think in terms of determining a win versus a loss. For our team it’s final third penetration (pass attempts and completions in that third) as well as limiting too much possession in your own third. If your final third penetration (number of pass completions in final third divided by total pass completions) is 20% or above, you have a really good chance of getting a result in the game.

The former stats are important, as in you’d rather possess than not, but it’s not the tell-all stat that most think of when they watch halftime stats on TV. My son’s team has moved from a season of 6v6 at U10 to 8v8 at U11, but the overall trends are basically the same, even with the addition of two players on the field and larger field dimensions.

In closing:

I’m hopeful that others will take the thoughts offered, and analytical approach used through Possession with Purpose, and build from it.

And while some may think the outputs stemming from Possession with Purpose can’t be used, at the very highest level of domestic soccer in the United States, be advised – it’s not true.

Best, Chris

You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckpwp

I also co-host the YellowcardedPod as well as the Rose City Soccer Show, and appear, monthly, on Soccer City PDX, the local Comcast Sports Northwest TV show covering the Portland Timbers.




Major League Soccer – Can it truly reach the heights of top European Leagues by 2025?

What prompted this piece was the recent article published on Soccer By Ives about Don Garber’s vision for MLS by 2025 :

It’s a good article and worth the read.


Editorial – In a follow up to this article (below) Stephen Brandt and I, on Yellowcardedpod, interview Brian Dunseth and Thomas Rongen on some of these topics:–mls2025

Before digging into some of my thoughts/questions on what else might be a part of this 2025 vision I’ll first ask this question – does MLS “need” to attain that level?  Mull that one over as I offer this caveat prior to digging in a bit deeper…

My thoughts offered are not intended to reflect that I don’t follow the league, support the league, or wish the business model of the league to fail. – I like (no) I love soccer – it’s been a passion of mine since the early 90’s and I continue to think and feel it is the greatest individualized-team sport in the World!

In no particular order some topics I think are worthy of consideration as MLS looks to develop/implement reach their 2025 vision:

Unbalanced League Schedule:

Probably the single worst aspect of the current system is an unbalanced league schedule where some teams you play once a year, some teams you play twice a year, and some teams you play three times a year….

I get it – at least for now – but it seems reasonable to me that the vision of 2025 needs to include a ways and means to create a more balanced schedule.

And I find it very doubtful that a schedule looking similar to how things appear today will convince others, outside this country, that MLS is a premier league.

League and Conference Size:

I think most would agree that the league will continue to grow – the question remains on what is the ideal stopping point of expansion?

If MLS wants to compete against the likes of La Liga, Serie A, EPL, and Bundesliga I would offer the stop point is 36 to 40 teams with two distinct conferences of 18 to 20 teams each.

This not only facilitates a balanced league schedule it also facilitates the league taking on the best of the single-table model those other leagues use; while also taking what I sense is a great attribute of American sports – the Playoff system.

There is a down side to this in that it may eliminate teams like New York City visiting Portland during the regular season – or other big cross-country games – but with every strength there is a weakness.

A possible end-run on that weakness is to open up the US Open Cup and eliminate ‘geographical area’ match-ups?  And in the current conditions the US Open Cup is not ready for prime-time TV coverage – if eliminating geographical match-ups in the early stages of the US Open Cup occurs those matches might have greater value to the overall soccer TV audience…

However viewed, having a single table for each conference with a playoff scenario at the end of the season does set up MLS to get the best of both soccer worlds – and it might even convince those across the pond to set up a playoff system too?

Expansion – specifically the Expansion Draft:

I get it – the reality, at least at this time, seems reasonable to allow for an Expansion Draft but seriously, is it reasonable to continue penalizing strong organizations – who build depth for the ever-competitive season – by asking them to potentially sacrifice good players they’ve already invested time and money in only to see them disappear just when they begin to reach their potential?

My view is no – the sooner the Expansion Draft is stopped, in MLS, the sooner the league goes on record to reaffirm that if you are going to be a part of the “premier” league in America you need to have already developed an organization from within that will help you sustain that ‘permanent promotion’ to MLS.

Of course – when MLS reaches that final team number the Expansion Draft is toast anyway – so perhaps this potential 2025 vision doesn’t matter?

Free Agency: Maybe the most contentious (now):

A question if you will – when is the last time you heard about a company like Boeing, who has plants in every state of the United States, prohibiting that employee from seeking a greater wage packet, with Boeing, elsewhere?

The current lack of an expanded free agency system in MLS really does hinder the ability of this league to attain a top league status across the rest of the world.

If MLS is expecting to be a great league in 2025 then a more flexible Free Agency system is most likely needed to sustain that vision.

MLS College Draft:

While I understand the goodness and intent behind the College Draft I remain unconvinced that the hype and expectation of a player moving from college to the professional ranks is really a high-value proposition if MLS is to attain status as a top league across the world.

There are other angles to consider to include 1) NASL has no draft, 2) to who really ‘owns the player’ and 3) what rights the college player already has in other competitive leagues.

I figure it’d take a lawyer or two, like with Free Agency, to work out all those details – especially since the ‘college draft’ is a primary mechanism for other American Professional Sports to improve their organizations.

I’m not going to bet on this but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the glamour of the MLS College Draft decrease – especially if MLS is intent on being a top flight league across the world.

On the other hand, if the NCAA pulled their head out their arse and looked to attain full status as an Amateur League within the US Soccer system then a whole new vision could open up where the likes of Ohio State, and other Colleges could find themselves competing in the US Open Cup – now what sort of atmosphere might that create where a College Team finds themselves playing a Professional Team in a College Stadium that holds 100,000 supporters — for me that sort of atmosphere would be monumental – never-mind the financial and media interest it may draw from the commercial world of the United States!

The question, for me, then becomes – what is the vision of the NCAA for soccer in 2025?

Taking a greater leadership role in the development of Soccer in the United States (College Soccer continues to play ‘outside the lines’ of US Soccer and FIFA regulations):

While some College Head Coaches may disagree, from any number of reasons, those that I’ve interviewed seem to agree that – for the most part – the game of soccer played in college is not the same style, or of the same tactical nous, of professional soccer.

Count down clocks and substitution policies – along with Referees that are not FIFA qualified – place young, impressionable players – at the prime age of skill development, in an environment that comes no where close to matching the type of soccer environment they’ll potentially encounter in the professional ranks.

And if college is supposed to provide a ‘learning environment’ isn’t it reasonable that that learning environment match, as closely as possible, the environment those same players will need to operate in as professionals?

To put this into perspective – there are roughly 1100 organized NCAA teams – meaning there’s roughly (20 X 1100) 22,000 players looking to hone their skills in an environment that doesn’t match professional soccer.

In addition, if growing Professional Referees is an objective then if there are 1100 teams that equates to roughly 550 crews of one Referee and 2 Linespeople also adjudicating games under rules different to those of FIFA.

Last but not least – Coaching staff – if MLS is to be truly competitive isn’t reasonable to expect that there also needs to be a pipeline for Coaches. With 1100 teams that’s 1100 Head Coaches and probably 2200 to 3300 Assistant Coaches all learning to manage a game that has little comparison to the types of tactics they’ll encounter when managing a professional side.

With all that said I remain unconvinced MLS will attain this lofty status when the single largest pool of Players, Referees, and Coaches, in the United States, plays outside the FIFA governing rules of soccer.

Professional Referee’s: 

This topic is probably a topic for every league in the World but if memory serves MLS has yet to completely close the loop on mandating that all Professional Referee’s be full-time for every league match.

Some opinions may vary on this but I do sense it is reasonable to believe that the level of adjudicating MLS matches, by full-time Professional Referee’s in this country, will be better in 2025 compared to now.

Perhaps we might even see FIFA decide to have two primary Referee’s adjudicate a game, just like the National Hockey League?  That may be helpful, for not only MLS, but World Soccer as a whole.

Perhaps another 2025 vision includes better use of video technology in support of Referees?

NASL – Where and how it fits – and if not what happens to those organizations:

There’s no question NASL run a competitive league but the money invested isn’t really on par with what teams leverage in MLS.

If it did then the business model that would best match and create a true environment like that of Europe – would be NASL’s.

So part of the MLS vision should probably consider two different possibilities.

1) Either NASL begins to fade away or 2) NASL merges with USL

Here’s the thing though – if soccer continues to grow in popularity for this country there is a risk to MLS that NASL could surpass MLS in league attendance given an influx of new owners that prefer the European Model of competition – the more you invest, the more likely you are to earn more, which in-turn means more attendance and media coverage, which in-turn drives a larger income, and so on….

Conversely – if MLS and USL are linked then it would seem reasonable, that in order to further strengthen a ‘lower league’, MLS needs to see USL merge with and absorb NASL – with ‘MLS Team 2 teams’ in USL getting relegated to a league division 3 status.

I wonder if that sort of consideration has been given as MLS looks towards a vision of 2025 – especially when looking at European leagues there are no ‘team 2 teams’ that can ever have an opportunity to directly compete against a ‘team 1 team’ – and as things stand today it is possible, not probable, but possible that LA Galaxy 2 could end up competing against LA Galaxy 1 in a US Open Cup Final – now what sort of bollocks would that be?

Before closing on this topic – a thought or two on mergers.  If you recall the AFL and NFL merged to create a new NFL.  The ABA and NBA merged to create a new NBA.  The World Hockey League and National Hockey League merged to create a new NHL.  And the American League and National League eventually tied the knot to create inner league play where both leagues still operate under slightly different rules.

Is it too far fetched to imagine, that by 2025, there will be MLS and then leagues operating directly below MLS where the business conditions are the same?  However viewed I believe a reasonable vision of MLS (and) US Soccer, in 2025, sees greater clarity on where NASL fits into the mix.

The business model of MLS (in America) compared to the business model (in Europe):

It’s ironic really – the business model of Europe sees a socialistic society operating a capitalistic business model (survival of the fittest) while a capitatlistic society (in America) operates a socialistic business model.

If you don’t follow I’ll put it this way – no team, in any top league across the World, is ever guaranteed the right to play in their countries highest level soccer league – they must prove, year in and year out that they are good enough to stay in their top league.

Whereas here, in America, if you join the MLS franchise you are always guaranteed (provided you are somewhat financially savvy) to always have a team in MLS.

Now some may offer this is a bit brutal but I think it is worth noting the word “entitled”; teams in Europe are not entitled to anything – just ask Leeds or Glasgow…

But anyway – I kind of digress here because the intent of using the word ‘entitled’ isn’t really about MLS it’s more about the overall tenor of youth soccer in this country.  Americans should never forget that the game of soccer is/and always has been, in other countries of the world, a game for the working class.

When parents are required to spend money, sometimes greater than $3000 per year, to support their child’s development in soccer they feel that their child is ‘entitled’ to play.

So while MLS may have a vision of top-flight status by 2025 I really believe that status will never be attained as long as the youth learning this game think they are entitled to play if they pay…  and with College Soccer facilitating that entitlement to play through their obtuse substitution rules that entitlement is reinforced!

In closing:

I’d offer there are a number of issues that may??? impact a ‘top-world-league’ vision for MLS 2025.

With some European teams operating on a budget the size of the US Department of Defense (just kidding) is it really reasonable to expect that an MLS franchise, with a salary cap, is going to be able to attract the worlds greatest footballers, in their prime, to the United States?

I’m not so sure. 

In case you missed it – Raheem Sterling was just sold to Manchester City for 49 Million Pounds – I think the purchase price for one player is greater than the team budget of most clubs in MLS…

Do we really expect a team, within the MLS Franchise business model, to pay 49 Million for one player?  Not likely…

So in going back to the first question.  Does MLS “need” to attain that level?

I don’t think so.

But I do think and feel there is value in seeing soccer attain top-flight status as a sport in America.

For me that means a vision where MLS is operating on an equal footing with Basketball and Football – the other Football…

As to the rest of the world I’m not sure it matters much to many folks – if we want to watch the EPL, the best league in the World, all we gotta do is turn on the TV and take it in.

Would I want to see a league table that mirrors the yearly expectations of the EPL here in America?


I admit I don’t like the parity concept from a personal standpoint as I’d like to see the Portland Timbers win every game – but it’s not realistic so I understand and get the business model.

And being a stats guy, who’s analyzed team performance in MLS, La Liga, Bundesliga, and the English Premier League, I pretty much like the greater chances the format offers than the usual (same old teams) we see finishing atop those other league tables.

Best, Chris

Portland Timbers, Major League Soccer and Europe’s Elite Leagues

This post was originally offered up on Stumptownfooty – the SB Nation blog site I write for when I cover the Portland Timbers – given there is up-to-date info in here about how some European Leagues finished (with respect to Possession with Purpose) I felt it worthy to re-post my article here for my overseas readers/followers.

We are 21 weeks into the season and parity thrives; or is it simply that poor play in possession and passing accuracy leading to parity while simply narrowing the focus of purpose to penetration pays?

Perhaps that’s a bit cynical, but when being a cynic I like to step back and take a look at the statistics.

This past year I measured team performance in three elite European Leagues; the English Premier League, Bundesliga, and La Liga.

What got measured were the following statistics, the outcome of which generates my Possession with Purpose Index. If you are new to PWP read here.

  1. Total Passes Attempted,
  2. Total Passes Completed,
  3. Total Passes Attempted into the Attacking Final Third,
  4. Total Passes Completed into the Attacking Final Third,
  5. Total Shots Taken,
  6. Total Shots on Goal, and
  7. Total Goals Scored

In all three leagues there was a clear pattern: the more of numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4 resulted in more of numbers 5, 6, and 7. This held true for the UEFA Champions League as well as the 2014 World Cup too.

The bottom line is that more means more in those elite leagues measured.

So, with great frustration I wonder what exactly is going on with the Timbers.

What held true in Europe for 2015 held true in the 2013 Major League Soccer season; but in the 2014 and 2015 seasons it does not.

The common sense results we expect to see given a possession-based team with top flight passing accuracy simply are not there in Major League Soccer.

So, is that a bad thing?

Those who have set up the league to create more parity should be slapping each other on the back; teams with poor passing accuracy but a few standouts (be them physical speed demons or real, high quality soccer players) are taking the points.

If you are not convinced, here’s the hard data:


The important bits are the Average Points versus the four digit numbers in the middle column: what that shows is a single number (Index) that represents the composite total of accuracy in the seven areas mentioned earlier.

Higher is better – lower is worse. Note that when looking at the final number (the R), the relationship of the two columns for La Liga, Bundesliga, and EPL all hover at or near 94% – meaning teams that are more accurate, in everything they do, across the entire pitch, are better and earn more points per game than teams that aren’t accurate.

So, in looking at MLS (the red shaded zone) it’s pretty clear that accuracy, across the entire pitch, in the major activities of a game does not drive points earned.

In other words, the cynical side of me offers that less is better; this is what the statistical output looks like for a league with parity.  Or mud in the eye for those who expect common sense, as witnessed in our favorite leagues overseas, does not apply in MLS.

What does this mean for the Portland Timbers?

To date, the Timbers are 7th best in overall possession (51.47%); 4th highest in overall passing accuracy (79.23%); 8th best in penetration per possession (25.27%); 4th best in passing accuracy within and into the Attacking Final Third (64.50%); and 7th best in overall shots per penetrating possession (18.18%).

Where issues remain are shots on goal per shots taken (6th worst at 33.94%) and goals scored per shots on goal (4th worst at 25.86%).

To correct those finishing issues the Timbers have purchased Lucas Melano; we can’t argue that the Timbers haven’t taken at least one step to improve their team during the transfer market.

They have.  What remains is more patience; then we might actually see some pedigree-type possession with purpose from Portland.

In Closing:

In case you missed it here’s a link to our latest Rose City Soccer Show where Kip, Will, Dan and myself share some thoughts on the season so far.  Be sure to look for our next show to release sometime Thursday evening.

Best, Chris

Possession with Purpose – Prozone – and more…

No detailed statistics today – just a narrative to pass on a few tidbits as I prepare my End of Season analysis for Europe.

The news:

The European Season is ending.

  • There’s the winners, the losers, and those that stay afloat to live another year.
  • I’ll peel back the results on the English Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, and UEFA Champions League in the next few weeks.
  • For now, in La Liga the PWP Composite Index has a .94 correlation coefficient (r) to points earned in the league table; the Bundesliga sits at .92, the English Premier League sits at .94, while the UEFA Champions League sits at .87.
  • All incredibly strong and far stronger than MLS (.61) this year; last year MLS finished at .87.
  • Speaking of MLS, does a league, where winners display more characteristics of counterattacking, versus just possession-based attacking, detract from predictability?
  • In other words does the lower correlation support a League’s ability to achieve “parity” in professional soccer?
  • If so, is that style/type of football attractive enough to continue to grow footy in the States?
  • If not – does that mean the business model currently set up in the States won’t ever achieve a league “status” that matches the “prestige” most seem to attach to the top leagues in Europe?
  • More to follow…

I think these two video presentations by Hector Ruiz and Paul Power, from Prozone, are worth listening to.

  • In this video (tactical profiling) Hector, who attended my presentation at the World Conference on Science and Soccer last year, talks about his latest efforts that include breaking down the different types of possession in a much greater detail than I ever could with public data.
  • Of note is Hector substantiates my finding that a Head Coach’s tactical approach can be differentiated through tracking possession (passing characteristics) on the pitch.
  • He also helps begin to solve the riddle on measuring which players perform better or worse given those different styles of possession.
  • A soap-box, for me, when looking at my article on ‘Moneyball relative to soccer’, is the inability of modern day soccer statistics to show real value on how well teammates actually influence an individual’s success or failure on the pitch relative to how the team actually plays (what style it works to).
  • Here’s a direct lift from my article referenced above…

Modern day soccer statistics, for the most part, don’t measure the appropriate level of influence teammates, opposing players, and Head Coaching tactics – as such when I say I’m not a Moneyball guy when it comes to soccer it really means I don’t buy all that crap about tackles, clearances, goals scored, etc…

I value players relative to team outputs and I strongly feel and think the more media and supporters who understand this about soccer the less frustration they will (have) in blaming or praising one individual player over another player.

  • In the next video (game intelligence) Paul takes a similar approach in analyzing team behavior like PWP – separating out defensive characteristics from attacking characteristics while also modeling a ‘defensive press’ that measures success or failure in passing based upon whether or not a defender is hindering the attacker.
  • This topic has been one that I have also touched on last year – here’s a direct quote from my article on Hurried Passes.

So what is missing from the generic soccer statistical community to account for the void in Unsuccessful Passes?  Is it another statistic like Tackles Won, Duals Won, Blocked Shots, or Recoveries?

I don’t think so – none of them generated a marked increase in the overall correlation of those three activities already identified.  I think (it) is the physical and spatial pressure applied by the defenders as they work man to man and zone defending efforts.

  • Likewise, Paul also touches on ‘passing vision’ (in my words it’s not the innate vision many of us think of for players) – it’s more a discussion and analyses (I think) on the ‘windows of passing lanes’ available to players and whether or not they have tendencies to play riskier passes versus safer passes in relation to what the defenders are doing.
  • For me this simply means Paul has taken the same defensive pressure data and flipped it to view the success or failure of a player to find another player to pass to or create a shot given the defensive pressure (lanes/vision) that are blocked or open.
  • In simplistic teams (with new event statistics) you can capture and intuit that success or failure by filtering passes as being ‘open or hindered’ and also apply that same filter to create ‘open or hindered’ shots.  My article on this approach was also published some time ago – New Statistics in Soccer (Open Pass and Open Shot)
  • Finally, Paul also speaks to a game of soccer resembling the behavior of a school of fish; I’m not sure I’m convinced that is the best analogy – especially when he talks about under-loading and overloading, but his view does closely resemble mine where the game of soccer perhaps is best represented by a single-cell Amoeba.

All told – two well crafted presentations that begin to open up and really reinforce some of my soap-box issues with soccer statistics since starting my research three years ago.

To be redundant – soccer is not just about scoring goals – there is more to the game than goals scored; these two presentations continue to support my view that the world of soccer statistics needs to continuously get better…

My back-yard / stubby pencil approach to team performance analysis is soon to be published through Rand.

  • I want to express my sincere thanks to Terry Favero – my Co-Author – who helped me navigate the challenging waters of writing an Academic Paper.
  • Terry added considerable value, as well, in researching other works to help set the stage on the differences of PWP versus other efforts developed and published across the globe.
  • Finally, Terry provided superb editorial support – a challenge in that the writing styles one normally sees in a blog are completely unacceptable when writing an Academic Paper.
  • Great fun and the first of at least two to three more.

Last but not least, the Women’s World Cup is beginning.

  • Last year I applied the principles of PWP to the Men’s World Cup – with good order.
  • I’ll refresh everyone on how that took shape and then begin to chart how PWP takes shape for the Women’s World Cup.
  • I wonder what, if any, differences will show in comparing the women’s game to the men’s game?
  • Will the data show the same trends in quality and quantity?
  • Or will we see a reduction in quantity that may end up driving an increase in quality?
  • More to follow.

Best, Chris

COPYRIGHT – All Rights Reserved.  PWP – Trademark

UEFA Champions League – Who moves on Barcelona, Bayern, Madrid, or Juventus?

I’ve been a bit busy lately so apologies for not offering up any research on Possession with Purpose; lots going on with it at the moment while all five competitions I measure are still going at full speed.

To catch up, using a picture first, here’s a look at how PWP compares to Total Shots Ratio as well as Goal Differential when viewing the UEFA Champions League:

PWP v TSR v GDNote that I’ve highlighted – in green – where the top 4 teams (FC Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Juventus) fit into each of the correponding Indices (if you will).

As an added Index I’ve also included the PWP Predictability Index (an Index that EXCLUDES goals scored (for or against) in the overall calculations.  A reminder that from a pure predictability standpoint the Predictability Index remains the only Index that excludes goals scored when developing a prediction as to whether a team might earn points.

For the benefit of all I’ve also included how things take shape when teams play at home versus away from home; there are differences.

So what does this mean?

PWP, even in a format different than general league play shows better than TSR as it is known today (i.e not modernized).

While Goal Differential shows well with respect to the overall correlation coefficient (r) to average points earned it doesn’t show best when racking and stacking it as an Index compared to PWP —> when viewing how it ranks teams versus how well they have progressed into the final stages.

What I found intriguing was that the PWP Predictability Index (which excludes goals scored) actually racked and stacked the top 4 teams in the UEFA Champions League better than Goal Differential.

If you’re someone who likes to bet on games early indications show PWP Predictability (excluding goals scored) has FC Bayern ahead of Barcelona and Real Madrid ahead of Juventus.

Of course Arjen Robben has been injured, and given his considerable influence with FC Bayern Munich that predictability model pretty much goes out the door – or does it?

I’d say yes, because when adding goals scored (the PWP Index) Barcelona leap-frogs past FC Bayern; meaning it is highly likely we see Real Madrid and Barcelona in the Finals…. but you decide.

In Closing:

Awhile ago I wrote that FIFA needed to change how they rank teams across the World.

I remain stubbornly steadfast and steadfastly stubborn that the outputs from both the UEFA Champions League and World Cup PWP Indices lend credibility to the suggestion that FIFA revisit protocols on how they seed teams in their various competitions.

Best, Chris


Control or Lack Thereof – MLS 2015

I originally posted this article on Stumptownfooty – an SB Nation blog site where I cover the Portland Timbers…

For over two years I’ve been researching team and league statistics to help paint a picture and perhaps? better explain what is happening on the pitch relative to points earned in a league table.  For the most part every competition measured, MLS 2014, English Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, and the UEFA Champions League have all shown a pattern of consistency.

This pattern isn’t relative to individual teams that win or lose (earn points) it’s relative to the behavior of the league/competition as a whole.

To give you an idea of what I mean here’s a diagram on how each of the six data statistics I track in Attacking Possession with Purpose correlate to points earned for all the teams in those leagues.


By correlate (statistically speaking) it’s the correlation coefficient between each data point and points earned – for those using statistics that is called “r”.

The other technical point here is that the average percentage for each of these statistics doesn’t matter – they are different – but even when they are different their overall relationship (correlation) to points earned is very-very close…

Said differently — there is a consistent pattern of league behavior relative to all leagues measured for team attacking.

What’s kinda cool (for me) is the pattern of information shows up as a bird – with the brains (head) of the bird located in the center (v). And that center (v) in soccer usually represents where the asset of vision comes into play; the better the completed pass into a danger area (attacking final third) the more likely it is to create a shot taken that has a better chance of resulting in a goal scored.

Here’s a look at the same diagram with the MLS 2015 information (red line) and the Portland Timbers information (green line) in comparison to the other leagues:


No “Birds” here…

In looking at MLS 2015 (red line) Possession Percentage – there is virtually zero corrleation to points earned – meaning it simply doesn’t matter how much possession (control) you have in a game in MLS.

This isn’t true for Portland however, with Possession Percentage (green line) hovering around -.50 this means the less possession Portland has the more likely they are to earn points – said another way – the more direct the play (this year) the better the odds they take points.

Last year that number was .10 – in 2013 that number was .02.

A takeaway here, on the Timbers, is that they were able to take points in 2013 given any level of possession percentage. In 2014 their tendency was to earn points (more frequently) when having greater possession. This year it’s not only the opposite (so far) it’s actually the opposite by quite a large margin.

Some might say that means the tactical approach for the Timbers is far easier to predict this year than the two previous years….

A few other thoughts about the two diagrams…

When considering Passing Accuracy and Goals Scored versus Shots on Goal – for MLS (red line) that correlation is a bit lower than either the Timbers or the other leagues… for me that means the value of scoring a goal this year carries far less weight than other leagues or even MLS for 2014.

Said a different way – perhaps more goals are being scored this year as a result of individual mistakes instead of controlled, well placed, passes that create more effective shots that finish in the back of the net?

Even more apparent is the far lower difference between MLS 2015, and the others, for Shots on Goal per Shots Taken… in other words there is virtually NO correlation on how accurate a team is in having their shots taken wind up as shots on goal.

In Closing:


The latest Composite PWP Index for MLS through Week 6.

What’s it mean?

For now, it appears that MLS 2015 is nowhere near the general level of consistency it showed in 2013 or 2014. And the league itself, is also far different from those measured in Europe.

While some may disagree I’d almost be willing to offer that it’s a complete crap-shoot on which teams win this year…

As a Timbers supporter I suppose that means at any given time, from any given angle, the Timbers could either get a goal or concede a goal… regardless of how good or bad their passing or penetration is…

If I were a Head Coach this bit of info might??? be interpretted a few different ways….

Either it doesn’t matter how much you plan, mistakes are going to happen and it’s anybody’s guess who makes those mistakes and when… or,

When the lads take to the pitch make sure you get the ball as far forward, as quickly as possible, so that when a mistake occurs it is more likely to occur outside your own defending final third, or

It doesn’t matter how much is spent on players – as long as we get guys who can strike the ball, in open space, (regardless of how it got there) we have a great shot at winning the game…

Enjoy the rollercoaster ride this year – I know I will!

Best, Chris