New York – New York, Defense gone pear shaped?

It’s half-way into the season and clearly the Red Bulls are not the team they were last year. First and foremost, what sticks out to me, is their overall performance in team defense; like Portland their overall Goal Differential (0) pretty much tells the story that their attack is doing fine but their defense is letting them down.

I’ll dig into that in a few minutes but if you’re new to this site it’d be rude for me not to include a link (ahead of time) to give you some background in my analyses. Here’s my introduction to Possession with Purpose  (PWP and the Indices) and what it’s all about.

If you don’t want to take the time to read through it the short version is:

  • PWP measures six steps in team performance from an attacking and defending viewpoint – those six steps are related to each other in the form of ratios and the final Index number represents that team performance.
  • It is surprisingly accurate when compared to the League Table – last year the Index was five for five in identifying the MLS Playoff teams for both conferences and this year, in the World Cup, that same statistical approach was 2 for 2 in identifying the top two teams to make the Finals; a link will be provided later.

Now…  back to it and the New York Red Bulls… Here’s how all the teams rack and stack after week 17:

CPWP INDEX End of Week 17

CPWP INDEX End of Week 17

New York are currently 11th best overall in MLS and 5th best in the Eastern Conference; they also happen to be 5th best in the Eastern Conference Table but my Index does not account for points.

Last year at this time New York was a bit higher up, as was Portland (the other Conference winner from last year).

As for the Defending PWP (my focus today) here’s a diagram on how well New York rate against everybody else:



Quite interesting that five of the six worst teams in defensive team performance are in the Eastern Conference.

If you wish to see how the teams lined up in the World Cup this year; click here:

For now, know that being in the bottom half of this Index means the opponents attacking schemes are working very-very well compared to the New York defending schemes.

But Defending Possession with Purpose team statistics don’t tell the whole story.

Part of my PWP analyses also includes collecting other data to supplement PWP; here’s a few of those that focus on other defensive team statistics:

Penetration into their Defending Third:  New York has the third lowest amount of passes attempted (in volume) by their opponents in their defending third (99.35 per game); yet their opponent Goals Scored versus Shots on Goal is over 35%; tied for 5th worst in MLS.

So in other words New York may have the run of possession and penetration in attack, but when their opponent does get the ball inside their defending third they are pretty good at making the most of those opportunities.

Corners Conceded:   New York is dead middle when it comes to corners conceded (5.12 per game).  While average, that does represent at least five set piece opportunities for their opponents each game – and set-pieces can win games.

And if your back four shows a poor history in defensive clearances that can be an issue… more later on that.

Successful Crosses:   New York is 4th worst in conceding successful crosses – their opponent success rate is 28.89%.  What that means is their opponents – when penetrating at wide angles – are pretty successful in generating goal scoring opportunities in the New York 18 yard box.

And again, when a team is low in their volume of Defensive Clearances that can be an issue…

Defensive Clearances:  New York averages the second fewest Defensive Clearances per game (18.53).  That low amount of clearances also reflects the higher level of success their opponents have in making successful crosses and also shows potential weaknesses in clearing corner kicks.

It also means that the center-backs and fullbacks (marking the far post) are not regularly positioned well to clear danger when the opponent passes the ball into the 18 yard box.

The observation here is that if clearances are low than one would expect to see reduced levels of successful crosses given the physical presence of fullbacks playing out wider – but they’re not…  odd???

I used to be able to track ‘blocked crosses’ (that might confirm or deny that view) but MLS decided (with OPTA) to not offer up that statistic anymore in their OPTA Chalkboard?!?

Penalty Kicks Conceded:   The 2nd worst team in conceding PK’s (.41 per game) is New York; another indicator that the defensive players are out of position at the wrong time!

Fouls made in the Defensive Final Third:  This is the lone category, out of all these defensive indicating categories, where New York isn’t showing issues; they are 6th best (2.47 per game) in making the fewest fouls in their own Defending Final Third.

So that’s a good thing in minimizing free kicks but it also (may?) reinforce that the back-four are more of the primary issue than the midfielders; lower fouls outside the 18 yard box would indicate the midfield is doing their job – meaning the higher than normal number of PK’s conceded means the back-four aren’t doing their job.

A potentially good indicator to the front office that shoring up the back-four is more critical than shoring up the midfield; perhaps others have a different view?

In closing…

If you’d like to see a comparison in how Portland are doing in these categories read here.

It’s intriguing to see that both Conference winners from last year are having similar struggles this year.

And like Portland, it appears to me that there are systematic issues with the New York Red Bulls defensive unit.

And… like Portland… I don’t think that gets “fixed” by adding a single player to the back-four. If no changes in leadership (coaching staff) have occurred (between this year and last) then perhaps something has changed in their weekly training scheme?

If no changes there, then it’s likely personnel change(s) (somewhere) need to occur if this team is going to be better in defending.

Portland added a DP in the back four just recently – I’m not sure they have a DP slot available but perhaps the Red Bulls will consider adding/trading for some different defenders?

Best, Chris