portland-timbers-mls-cup

Old Hat? Or New Tricks?

The Portland Timbers embark on a grand journey this year – a chance to repeat as the MLS Champions.  If you’re like me you never figured that scenario when we began the long journey at the start of  2015.

And if not for a major switch in tactics, with three games to go in the regular season, an early departure was likely.

If I had to pick out a couple of players who had a key role in this effort I put it down to two; Diego Chara and Darlington Nagbe.

Darlington Nagbe and Diego Chara play the double pivot in a singular way

Yes… we could include other players here but the key to the single pivot, in my view, was answering these questions.

  • Could Diego Chara manage unplanned turnovers and shut down penetration when the opponent had an over-load?
  • Could Darlington Nagbe create more space for others with his possession atop and within the center of the pitch versus his limited involvement on the right side of the pitch?  And
  • Could Darlington Nagbe, Rodney Wallace/Lucas Melano and Dairon Asprilla also get back to support Diego Chara if things went pear-shaped?

So… how about this year?

Do the Timbers open in a ‘single pivot’?

Before trying to answer that some information for your consideration.

  • George Fochive has moved on to Europe – I wish him all the best.  In my interview with Preki two years ago, the first phrase he used to describe Fochive was “he has the right mentality”.  I think he showed many of us that same engaged mentality last year.
  • Nick Besler – not known for tenacious presence, I think he has to continue to work with T2 to develop better defending skills with his hips and shoulders.  In the preseason match against that city up north it was pretty clear, to me, he still let’s the game play him instead of him playing the game… i.e. he has very little control or presence – and for a midfielder that’s in appropriate.
  • Diego Chara is ever Diego – strong – physical – unafraid – and developing good skill in using his head to score goals along with his very cerebral play in defending space.
  • Jack Jewsbury – another year older.  How long can he continue to add strong value in the midfield without giving away too much space with his lack of speed?  That said, if there is anyone on the pitch who has a greater feel for the game in positional awareness I’m not sure…

portland-timbers-jack-jewsbury-mls-major-league-soccer-player

  • Ben Zemanski – coming off injury, early indications are that he’s sharp.  But Ben has sometimes been a bit of a question mark, in my view, when looking at the mental part of the game.  Two years ago he had some rash tackles at inopportune times and while he’s a good passer his vision in offering the through-ball or cross-pitch pass hasn’t really manifested itself in my mind yet.  Oh… and his extensive level of energy on the pitch is as much of a weakness as a strength.  I’m not sure he has the right balance there yet; others may see that differently?

So with that said here’s some general thoughts, I have, based upon what I’ve seen some other teams do this year (without digging into great detail).

  • That city up north is moving towards youth – I expect they will be faster in the midfield and perhaps take on more of the tenor we’ve seen from FC Dallas these last two years than the slow-footed team we saw last year.
  • Colorado has splashed out on some players to add midfield strength as well as defending and attacking.
  • The same can be said for Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas.
  • But most noticeably, to me, are the moves made by LA Galaxy – a true powerhouse on paper with perhaps the best head coaching brain in the United States.
  • As for Vancouver?  Hard to say – I don’t think they’ve done a whole lot this off-season but…  they were strong last year so it’d be rude not to expect they’ll be strong this year.

Now – back to the question at hand – Do the Timbers open in a ‘single pivot’?

  • Yes…  Porter almost has to given their late season success in running that formation.
  • But…  he does have some more tools this year to also run a 4-4-2.  And running the same style, game in and game out isn’t going to work in MLS.  There are simply too many teams that can now play possession-based football as well as possession-less based football.  And to keep from being predictable (like Columbus was last year) Porter is going to need to have flexibility in changing his approach.

So… if he runs the 4-4-2 he will have to sacrifice a midfielder in lieu of McInerney.

  • Who will that be?  Melano, Asprilla, Valeri, or Nagbe?
  • To keep speed on the wings and remain balanced in defending, as well as attack, I’d offer it has to be Valeri.

Diego Valeri

  • That may be a bit shocking, but if McInerney is scoring goals and the overall tenor of the defensive back-four is holding up well it’s got to be an offensive minded player (first).  And since both Melano and Asprilla are working well supporting the fullbacks my guess is Valeri.
  • Besides – with Nagbe on the pitch, and his continued improvement in playing box-to-box, Porter really is still playing a 4-2-3-1…
  • For me, I hope the attack remains strong enough with just one striker!

It’s all to play for this year – even more so than last year…  if you want to really gauge the success of an organization it’s how they do year in and year out that really tells the story.

A one-off, in a league rife with parity, is just that…  what are your thoughts?

Best, Chris

 

US Mens Soccer Logo

US Soccer – Improving College Soccer in the United States

If you’re anywhere near being an enthusiast of Major League Soccer, or soccer in general, the tides of potential change in College Soccer should be a welcomed sight.

And this latest article from MLSSoccer.com should be mandatory reading to get a feel for how things are progressing.

For me, that progress comes as no surprise.  And in case you missed it here’s what my thoughts were earlier in 2015:  Major League Soccer – Can it truly reach the heights of top European Leagues by 2025 .

So with those two articles, plus two interviews Stephen Brandt and I have had on the Yellowcardedpod with Jamie Clark (Head Coach University of Washington) Interview with Jamie

Jamie Clark

Jamie Clark

& Jeremy Fishbein (Head Coach University of New Mexico) Interview with Jeremy Fishbein

Jeremy Fishbein

Jeremy Fishbein

it should help us carve out some questions as we spend time with Sasho Cerovski (Head Coach of University of Maryland) later this month.

Sasho Cirovski

Sasho Cirovski

My intent, through questions and discussion, is to touch base, in one way or another, with how College Soccer might better envision topics like these (below) as part of a successful end state (perhaps before 2025)? 

And yes, the NCAA is a tough nut to crack, but if colleges are really set up to help those, who attend, to better prepare for their lives in a professional environment then it only makes sense to seek out better ways to prepare students for the real rigors of professional soccer.

I don’t claim to have all the answers or even all the questions but if there is intent, true intent, to make the United States a leader in soccer then it’s worthy to consider that changes need to be made at the college level.  It is… after all… the most beautiful, individualized, team sport in the world and it’d be rude for the NCAA not to consider how it can better serve their students who wish to play professional soccer.

  1. A college soccer season that mirrors the length and rough number of games played at the professional level.
  2. A college soccer ‘rules of law’ that mirrors that of FIFA and US Soccer.
  3. A soccer competition (that US Soccer supports) where College teams can potentially play against Professional teams for the US Open Cup – and yes amateur leagues across THE REST OF THE WORLD compete in national cups.
  4. A training environment where players can experience the same type of physical training and game tactics they’ll face in the professional leagues.  In other words get rid of count-down clocks and multiple player substitutions as well as the silly rules about what constitutes soccer training versus workouts in the gym.
  5. A coaching environment where coaches can experience the same types of tactical nuance that professional coaches face.  In other words, again, ditch the multiple substitution rules.  Thereby forcing head coaches to have their players experience tired legs, which in turn, can change the tenor/tactics of a game.  Meaning it isn’t simply about playing – with fresh legs for all players – a full 90 minutes.  This then translates to better understanding possession with purpose – possession for the sake of possession – versus possession for the sake of penetration – or – (put differently) non-possession where you lure your opponent into untenable defending positions if/when they lose the ball in attack.
  6. A refereeing environment where referees gain valuable experience in governing a game relative to the rules of FIFA and US Soccer…  I think most would agree, the greater the pool of eligible referees to manage professional soccer, the greater the likelihood that refereeing in this country will get better.

If you did read my article, or previous articles I’ve written on these topics, you should know there are roughly 1900 college soccer teams in the United States; that equates to roughly 41,800 players playing outside the governing rules of FIFA and US Soccer.

That also equates (if each college team has 1 Head Coach and 3 Assistant Coaches) to 7,600 coaches not coaching and managing tactics (successes and failures of those tactics) they are likely to experience as a professional head coach.  This isn’t to say coaches are not aware of those different types of tactics – it’s only to offer that having the regular experience of managing, relative to those tactics, may be different in the professional ranks as opposed to college ranks.

Finally, every game needs a referee and two assistant referees, plus a fourth official on the sideline.  So that equates to 7,600 referees managing games outside the governing rules of FIFA and US Soccer.

Bottom line, that means the single greatest level of amateur soccer in this country is failing to properly prepare players (in their prime), coaches, and referees for professional soccer.  

So… Jurgen Klinsmann and Sunil Gulati – if you’re really going to espouse to a greater success of soccer, across this nation, then I’d expect you need to focus on supporting college coaches, as much, if not more, than MLS.  Others may disagree…

What are your thoughts?

Best, Chris

Possession with Purpose: 2015 In Review

A few bits and pieces I felt would be worthy to share with others as 2016 begins. 

Which articles were read the most in 2015?  

  1. Possession with Purpose – Revised Introduction
  2. Busting the Myth of Moneyball in Soccer Statistics?
  3. Redefining and Modernizing Total Shots Ratio
  4. World Conference on Science and Soccer – My Presentation on Possession with Purpose
  5. Is European Football Really Higher Quality than Major League Soccer? Expected Wins 4

Where do the folks come from who read those articles?

Over 120 countries in all, with the top ten being:

  1. United States
  2. United Kingdom
  3. Canada
  4. Nigeria
  5. Germany
  6. Australia
  7. European Union
  8. Brazil
  9. Italy
  10. Netherlands

The best moment of 2015?

It took a long time to get there but clearly the Portland Timbers winning the MLS Championship Cup was, for me, the top-totty moment of 2015!

portland-timbers-mls-cup

Next up – seeing Possession with Purpose getting published!  Wow – who’da thought?

Thank you!

Best, Chris

TIFO

Through the Looking Glass – Defending the MLS Cup

First and foremost – No rest for the wicked.

portland-timbers-mls-cup

Today, for your consideration, is my view on how this next season begins. As much as I want to share some thoughts with you about how this season just ended there have been many before me who have already done a great job doing that. For me, when you are a Champion, there is no yesterday, it’s all about tomorrow…

The trail of transactions began quickly, on December 7th, Monday past, around 10 minutes past five in the evening the Timbers made a number of announcements about their playing roster for next year.

Along the way we’ve heard confirmation about Jorge Villafana, rumor and propaganda about Will Johnson, as well as knowing that both Rodney Wallace and Ben Zemanski are being offered bonafide contracts.

Jorge Villafana – When I first saw him playing for Chivas USA a couple of years ago he stood out to me as being the best player on that team. He showed vision, the right mentality, first touch, quickness, passing skills, and an intuition to be in the right place at the right time. Throughout the course of this season Jorge has, in my view, been the most consistent player on the pitch. Is it any wonder that his performance was touted as being “Man of the Match like” in the MLS Championship Cup? If you ever listened to the Rose City Soccer Show you know my views on Jorge. So for me… I will be sorry (very selfishly disappointed) to see him go and he will leave some inordinately large boots to fill on the pitch. If there is anything of concern, as the Timbers look to build anew for next season, it’s getting someone to replace Jorge Villafana! And the player most likely to miss Jorge Villafana the most is Liam Ridgewell!

Will Johnson – The right player joining the Timbers at the right time to help set the stage for Caleb Porter and his philosophical approach to the game. I am sorry to see him go, yet through the course of this season as well as last year (even after his injury) there were times when I watched the Timbers and thought – the chemistry or balance of the team isn’t right – the Timbers would do well in some instances and then go all pear-shaped in other instances. I don’t specifically blame Will Johnson for this (it’s a team game) but I do sense that the imbalance changed considerably when Darlington Nagbe was moved into the center of the pitch and Diego Chara was given the singular role in the single pivot. I wish him nothing but the very best as he looks to find a new home for his family. In terms of finding a direct replacement for Will Johnson, I don’t see the specific need in his case – not because you don’t want a player with his mentality – you do – but since we’ve seen a bonafide contract offer for Ben Zemanski the Timbers still have four solid central defending midfielders – and with roster limits and salary cap type issues it simply doesn’t seem reasonable to have five CDM’s that could start.

With those thoughts offered on Jorge and Will where are the gaps the Timbers are likely to try and close this off-season?

Defense – You can’t win a championship without defense! Whoever comes in to replace Villafana, be it an internal player or someone who’s currently external to the organization, you can bet their primary focus will be to learn how to play a supporting role in both the single and double pivot.

  • Alvas Powell – He’s done well this year in getting a better understanding on positional play – when he stops having to rely (specifically on his speed) to shut down an attacker he will truly have blossomed – hopefully that transition occurs this next year!
  • Nat Borchers – While I view Jorge Villafana as the most consistent player on the Timbers this year there can be much argument that Nat Borchers was as well. And it’s likely Liam Ridgewell can thank Nat Borchers for much of his own success as Jorge Villafana. If there was ever a truly superb acquisition last off season it was bringing in Nat Borchers; the bearded one, while a bit aged it must be said, did more than his fair share in being in the right place at the right time to save, or score, a goal or two.
  • Liam Ridgewell – Here’s where I’m a bit squishy. To be fair Liam has done well this year but to be honest I think his success is more about the success of those around him than him personally. Yes, it takes a stolid presence and grist-driven skill to play center-back but I wonder how he will perform as Borchers gets a year older and Jorge gets replaced. If there is an Achilles heal with the Timbers defense I think it’s in the left center-back position; I’m sure there are many who will disagree.
  • Taylor Peay – The youngster has done well this year in spot starts and if it wasn’t for Jorge Villafana leaving so quickly I’d almost offer Taylor might be a likely candidate to begin learning a bit about playing center-back. That may be a stretch for some but he’s pretty good moving laterally and his awareness continues to improve. For me that’s two critical assets a center-back needs to go along with good passing skills and a bit of pace.
  • Norberto Paparatto – While I’m not surprised Norberto had his contract declined there may be movement afoot to resign him. He did well this year in his own spot starts and as many have pointed out I don’t think the Timbers lost a game when he started. Perhaps more to follow with Norberto?

Defensive Gaps:

Even if Norberto Paparatto is resigned I would still offer the Timbers will have a gap at center-back. does Anthony Manning continue to develop? What about Taylor Peay, does he have the nous to begin learning the craft?

As previously noted there will be a HUGE gap at the fullback position; perhaps even more so with Jeanderson leaving as well? He didn’t show good grist when called upon to play against Philadelphia and since Taylor Peay showed well – with roughly the same amount of preparation/development time it is likely he doesn’t return. I wonder about Ben Zemanski prehaps filling this role; he has been tried here previously and his mentality, pace and passing skills are definitely up to scratch. Plus the CDM position already has Jack Jewsbury or George Fochive waiting in the wings too.

And while this article has been in draft awaiting final editing the Timbers have secured Chris Klute (pronounced Kloo tee) to try and close this gap…

Midfield – Transition from attacking to defending isn’t always about short passes. There’s as much for a midfielder to do when a team plays direct versus ground-based attacking. The tactics are slightly different but it all really comes down to first touch, turning, and passing. Whether that ball comes to you off a rebound, second chance deflection, or via a teammate passing you the ball doesn’t matter. You still need a great first touch, vision, stamina, turning, and passing skills.

  • Darlington Nagbe is maturing into a box-to-box midfielder who has superb skills where the sky is the limit – but so is playing time. Darlington will have to juggle three primary playing demands next year; playing the MLS Regular Season, the CCL, AND…….. (it’s about bloody time) the US Men’s National Team. How Darlington, and the Timbers organization balance those minutes will be huge; he’s in his prime and he’s a critical piece to this team as they look to defend the cup.
  • Diego Valeri continues to show his mettle on the pitch, like Villafana and Nagbe he has a boot full of skills and if/when the Timbers operate at their best he’s probably more of the dangerous counterfoil to Darlington as opposed to the leader of those two now. It’s hard to imagine saying that at this time but in my view the move of Darlington, to the middle of the pitch, has been exactly what the doctor ordered to give Diego some respite from being leveraged so much he might have been more ineffective than effective; others may disagree.
  • Rodney Wallace is not really touted as a midfielder but he is. He has just as much responsibility in attacking as he does defending. While Rodney doesn’t have the deft balls skills like Darlington and Diego he makes up for that in miles traveled. And with the Timbers making him a bona-fide contract offer for next year it’s likely the Timbers are very much committed to having him stay with the team. If he were to turn down that offer it’s likely the Timbers would shop just a feverishly for a player to replace his skills as a player to replace those of Jorge Villafana.
  • Dairon Asprilla is beginning to show to others. While it may have taken some time for him to settle into a specific role on the right side of the pitch his participation in games is just as much about what he personally brings to the team as what his presence allows others to bring to the game – namely Darlington Nagbe. I would argue that if Dairon Asprilla didn’t have the right mix of talent we may never have seen Nagbe move to the center of the pitch! That said his ability to show mettle on both sides of the pitch is just as valuable to Alvas Powell as Wallace’s ability to run the left side.

Midfield Gaps:

An attacking central midfielder to take on the role of Darlington Nagbe or Diego Valeri; preferably someone who’s a bit more box-to-box than Diego Valeri.

An midfield winger – preferably someone who’s a bit more savvy with their foot skills than Rodney Wallace; as noted Rodney has done well this year – but he struggles in making space for himself – Dairon does not.

Forward – A position where a player usually has the least amount of touches but perhaps the greatest amount of influence in the result.

  • Fenando Adi has made great strides this year and I personally know that the Timbers have made considerable effort in helping Fenando expand his skill set. He’s truly a bruising #9 who’s just as powerful on the turn as he is with the lateral run when looking for crosses or through-balls. Like everyone else in the attacking side of the pitch he’s gained considerable value with the presence of Darlington Nagbe in the middle. You always want your #9 to have space in front of them when their back is to the goal – the options made available become nearly 360 degrees as opposed to roughly 90 degrees… the greater Fenando’s field of vision the more dangerous he becomes.
  • Lucas Melano is, in my view, still a raw talent. But he is a talent. How that translates next year remains unclear. In my view he’s not ready to crack the first five in attack. Yes, he started in the Championship, and yes he offered the game winning cross but the tenor of the game very much worked towards a low block and while Lucas did well he was eventually replaced by Dairon when the short hairs got itchy.

Forward Gaps:

Another traditional #9 – while Fenando Adi continues to develop he simply can’t play every game and the Timbers will need to rely on another forward, with a skill set somewhat similar to Adi, in order to succeed in both the CCL and MLS. Even more so with the expanded attacking flexibility in being able to run a single or double pivot midfield.
A poacher with speed, quick feet and a great first touch – do you call that player a #8 or #10? It doesn’t really matter. If Maxi Urruti is released and not resigned then a player who could kinda do what Maxi could do but maybe faster may be a worthy team addition??? Perhaps this positional gap is also somewhat of the same positional gap that an attacking midfielder might fill???

Goalkeeping – The position where, hopefully, they do have the fewest touches in a game but perhaps the most influence in the outcome. We only have to recall the Cup game to know that…

Adam Kwarasey and Jake Gleeson – Both these guys are quality keepers and the Timbers should be in good stead for goal keeping next year. I’d like to offer a bit more here but goalkeeping is such a unique soccer skill set that I’d probably do those two players a dis-service by offering more.

Goalkeeping Gaps:

None – Well they will need a third keeper but I wouldn’t expect a gap given these two guys.

Where do you think the Timbers will have gaps they’ll need to fill working from assumptions/expectations that:

  1. The Timbers will look to defend their Cup with as much grist as possible.
  2. The Timbers will look to advance, with no holds barred, as far as possible in the CCL.
  3. The Timbers will look to advance, with no holds barred, as far as possible in the US Open Cup.
  4. Darlington Nagbe, Rodney Wallace, and Alvas Powell will all miss time with the team due to national call ups.
Best, Chris

Ride on! Timbers play for the MLS Championship Cup

Opening March

In all walks of life there are few things that transcend the passion that both players and their supporters feel about football!

Simply the best supporter group in all of MLS

If you happen to be a Portland Timbers supporter you know what I mean… if not suggest you start.

So how bout those Timbers?

In this game, and for the better part of the last stretch of games starting with the away win in Real Salt Lake, the two players that have stood out the most are…

Darlington Nagbe and Diego Chara play the double pivot in a singular way

Diego Chara and Darlington Nagbe.

No better duo plays the double pivot in such a singular way.

Make no mistake in what I mean – what has occurred this year is the full-blown maturity of Darlington Nagbe as a box-to-box midfielder.  And with that progression his presence in the midfield, on both ends of the pitch, has opened up a whole new look for Portland.

Advantages working off this move have included:

  • Adding a true winger, Dairon Asprilla, to the right side of attack; who also shows good grist in defending.
  • Expanding Adi’s time and space to control and possess/move the ball atop the 18 yard box – the increase in goals should speak for itself.
  • Enhancing the value of Rodney Wallace, earlier this year Rodney struggled with lack of space – with Darlington moving central he’s gotten more time and space – hence an increase in assists.
  • Diego – oh Diego Valeri – you only had to watch this last game to see the value of Diego getting more time and space on the ball – more assists.

So for a team who struggled, heavily, with scoring goals the regular season they now lead everyone as the Championship final looms…

That offered, what’s in store for this weekend and the Championship Cup game?

Critical Match-ups:

Diego Chara – Federico Higuain

Darlington Nagbe – Tony Tchani

Diego Valeri – Wil Trapp

What a threesome of pairs…

I don’t like to lay a game on the line where just one player can make a difference in team performance but the match-up I see as being the most critical is Darlington Nagbe v Tony Tchani; sure hope there’s plenty of camera work on that match-up.

Two comments on this match-up; Nagbe is Mr. calm-cool-and-collected; Tchani showed a bit of edge in the game against New York where Kamara had to jump in and give him an ear-full.

Leading to two critical questions:

Will the sublime ability of Darlington Nagbe and his patented dribble penetrations be to much for Tchani to handle?

And just how many times does Tchani have to foul Nagbe to try and mitigate his talent?

Top targets:  

Fenando Adi – Kei Kamara

As play has developed for the Timbers Adi is as much a target to turn and strike the ball as he is to control and pass the ball.  For Kamara figure his greatest strength is in the air while also offering slashing runs that split defenders.

Wing Play: 

Jorge Villafana – Ethan Finlay

Alvas Powell – Justin Meram

Rodney Wallace – Harrison Afful

Dairon Asprilla – Waylon Francis

The match-ups here are more about sustaining balance in attack versus over-committing in attack. With both teams having great strength in counter-attacking how these individual battles finish could well determine the game.

Defenders and Set-Pieces:

Nat Borchers & Liam Ridgewell

Michael Parkhurst & Gaston Sauro

If there was an odds-on favorite Center-back to score a goal on a set-piece this game I’m swinging my axe in favor of Nat Borchers!  Note, this isn’t to preclude someone like Kamara or Adi getting their head on the ball either – it is what it is…

Goal Keepers:

Adam Kwarasey – Steve Clark

Again the edge goes to Portland – it should be noted that Adam just recieved the award for MLS Save of the Year ; click on his name to see that award winning save.

Off the bench:

Lucas Melano Cedrick Mabwati

If you didn’t get a chance to see how both these guys came off the bench and injected their respective teams with sublime ball movement and a superb final touch I suggest you click on their names to see for yourself. For Cedrick’s magic scroll to the 3:50 mark on the video clip.

Head Coaches:

Caleb Porter – Gregg Berhalter

For me, it’s not only a great match-up on the pitch it’s a great match-up off the pitch.  In store for this Sunday are two tactical and technical masters of the American way in soccer.

It’s not all about money and the individual stars this year – it’s all about setting the right conditions, tactically, that enable their respective teams to technically execute.

Each team has their style – Columbus – a possession based team who is just as likely to play the counter; and Portland?  Oddly enough, or is it, a possession based team who is just as likely to play the counter.

Both organizations have shown that you need a solid midfield who can possess and penetrate, as much in attack, as in defending with the ball.  Neither team blows the doors off the possession percentage statistics but both teams averaged greater than 50% while both also averaged greater than 78% in passing accuracy. Both in the top seven of each category.

Each also finished in the top six for goals scored from shots on goal and both finished in the top 5 for attacking possession with purpose.  Finally, it should also be noted that both teams finished in the top six for defending possession with purpose.  Fair to say both teams played well on both sides of the ball.

Given that, it only seems reasonable to think the game will be won by the team that best executes in the middle of the pitch – kinda like chess – win the middle and win the game.

That doesn’t mean we won’t see some direct play – we will – it’d be rude not to.

That said it also doesn’t mean set-pieces won’t play a part – they will too.

Any coach knows that every opportunity to create a shot on goal is an opportunity to win – in this game there is no other bottom line than that!

Who wins?

Portland…

#RCTID

Best, Chris

PS:  My thanks to David Chaffin and Steven Lenhart for some great pictures!

 

 

 

The Ride Continues – Timbers MLS Championship Run

TIFO

“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…

Asprilla

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.

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!

If interested here’s some additional thoughts on the Timbers match against Dallas as part of the Yellowcarded Podcast.

Finally, here’s more thoughts on this game from myself, Kip Kesgard, and Will Conwell and our Rose City Soccer Show.

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:

CPWP STRATEGIC INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 COMBINED

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…

Opinion:  

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.