MLS Soccer – Fouls in the Defending Third; their potential influence in DPWP and Points in the League Table

As part of my continuing analysis on Major League Soccer, with respect to Possession with Purpose, here’s an interesting view on the relationship between fouls committed in the Defending Final Third versus Defensive Possession with Purpose (DPWP), Points in the League Table, and Composite Possession with Purpose (CPWP)…

Fouls made in the Defending Third
Fouls made in the Defending Third

Teams are ranked from most to least fouls in the defending third with their DPWP, Sum of Points Taken, and CPWP article.

Note that three of the four teams with the fewest points in Major League Soccer also commit the most fouls in their own defending third; Portland, Chivas, and Montreal – and a team that has been taking a slide in the league standings of late, FC Dallas, are also in the top four.

An issue with this table is that the number of games played is not equal – it is what it is.

Note the teams in the bottom half of the table; LA Galaxy, New England, Colorado, Sporting, and Seattle are teams that come to mind who are doing well this year in minimzed fouls as well as good standing in the league table – an odd one out is New York.

Perhaps their lower points total and lower PWP Index ratings are more to do with having average players who are more disciplined in not fouling but less disciplined in good position play?

In other words they are so far out of position that they can’t get close enough to foul in order to shut down their opponent; or, they are so disciplined in not giving away a set-piece/penalty they would rather rely on their keeper to try and make a save or rely on the opponent to ‘miss’?

I’d probably support the later more than the former – but since their back four has been a mish-mash of starters throughout the whole year it’s pretty hard to tell…

In looking from a different point of view; fouls made versus PK’s conceded, Opponent Goals Scored and Goal Differential the overall data still remains compelling – fouling your opponent in your Defending Final Third will negatively impact points in the league table…

Fouls made in the Defending Third with PKs conceded
Fouls made in the Defending Third with PKs conceded

In looking at Portland in particular; clearly the number of fouls conceded in the final third relates to the average number of PK’s conceded this year… (4.21 to .64).

Three other leaders (if you will) in this area are Montreal (3.17 to .33), Houston (2.87 to .40), and New York (2.29 to .43).  Of all these teams all three have negative CPWP Index numbers, (-0.2345 for Montreal), (-0.2741 for Houston), and (-0.0416 for New York).

The odd one out, by a slim margin, is Portland who sits on 0.0616 CPWP; a testament, if you will, in their ability to score goals…. if only they could prevent goals better.

The most compelling evidence to me however, is not pictured, the Correlation of Fouls committed in the Defending Final Third to Opponent Goals Scored is .6146 and the Correlation to Goal Differential is -.5267.

In other words there is a strong relationship between fouls committed in the Defending Final Third and Goals conceded…

Of interest for me is that the relationship also translates back to DPWP and CPWP; the correlation of Fouls conceded in the Defending Final Third to DPWP is .5495 while the Correlation to CPWP is -0.4853.

Not as strong as the league table correlations but enough of a correlation to reinforce that the PWP Indices have relevance to points in the league table without including (points) in the analysis that creates the Indices of team performance.

In closing…

Fouling your opponent in your own back yard hurts – it not only hurts team performance it also hurts in the league standings…

Those teams that do this regularly don’t appear to do well (based upon both views of data – quantitative and qualitative) in Major League Soccer…

Best, Chris

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3 thoughts on “MLS Soccer – Fouls in the Defending Third; their potential influence in DPWP and Points in the League Table

  1. Great piece as ever Chris. I’m not sure if I missed it, but is there some data on passes conceded in final 3rd compared to fouls. For example I would imagine that Chivas concede many final 3rd fouls because a much higher % of the game is played there. I would be interested to see who has the worst discipline in terms of how many opposition passes it takes in order for a foul to be committed. What do you think?

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    1. Thanks for your kind words Oliver! Great questions too! 🙂 After some initial research in looking into answering your questions I think there is great value in putting together an article on that. Give me a day or two and I’ll put together a special piece digging into those questions. Best, Chris

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