Are Seattle Sounders and Sporting KC simply too strong?

Plenty of action these past two weeks in Major League Soccer – the most telling is the huge lead in points that Seattle holds over all the other teams in a very competitive Western Conference.

Not to be outdone, in the Eastern Conference, it appears Sporting KC have also begun to open up an insurmountable lead – especially with that victory against LA Galaxy yesterday.

Are these teams so good, compared to the others, that the Playoffs are merely a warm-up session for what might be one of the most exciting MLS Championship games ever?

It’s hard to latch onto that view, this early, so in working through my Possession with Purpose (PWP) Indices and their supporting key indicators, I’ll let you decide.

For your consideration:

  • PWP Attack as of Week 19 & PWP Attacking Predictability looking forward past Week 19
  • PWP Defense as of Week 19 & PWP Defending Predictability looking forward past Week 19
  • Composite PWP as of Week 19 & CPWP Predictability looking forward past Week 19

To begin the Attacking (APWP Index excluding the CUSA v DCU game)…



Both Seattle and Sporting are in the top five for how effective their teams have been in attack; others present include LA Galaxy, FC Dallas, and the New York Red Bulls.

Yet when looking at the internal key indicators there are a number of teams that remain productive; with at least 14 games remaining, for most teams, Columbus lead the league in Passing Accuracy at 80.64%; while LA Galaxy, Vancouver, Real Salt Lake, Sporting, and Portland all hover over 78%.

In terms of penetration per possession, probably the most intriguing of all the statistics, New England lead, by a wide margin, with 30%; while Houston, Philadelphia, LA Galaxy, and Real Salt Lake round out the top 5.

Both Sporting and Seattle rest in the tail end of this indicator at 21.65% and 20.79% respectively.  Other teams doing well this year in attack, but at the lower end of penetration, also include Portland, Columbus, DC United, Colorado, and DC United.

In my view this indicator (in attack) is heavily influenced by the defensive approach of the opponent – or – the attacking approach of the team.  

Only three of the top ten teams in this category average greater than 50% possession and, again, only four of the top ten teams in this category average greater 78% passing accuracy.

It would appear that teams who spend a greater percentage of their possession within the opponents Defending Final Third do so as a result of more direct attacking than possession based attacking.

And when it comes to scoring goals only three of the top eight teams are in the top half of all teams that score goals.

As for the two teams with the lowest goals scored per game – well both San Jose and Montreal are not only the worst in goals per game they are also the worst in penetration per possession; so when your poor you’re really poor.

As for Goals Scored, Seattle lead the league in goals scored per game (1.94); with Portland, New York and FC Dallas at (1.6); others following close behind include Philadelphia (1.57), LA Galaxy, Toronto FC and Vancouver all tied at 1.53 with Colorado (1.47) and Sporting KC rounding out the top ten at 1.45.

Clearly there are plenty of teams in this league who have strong averages in goals scored; the difference maker for this category is how well those same teams behave in defense.

Here’s the Defending (DPWP) Index after Week 19 (excluding the CUSA v DCU game):



Like in the APWP Index, both Seattle and Sporting KC are in the top five – the big surprise here for me is where San Jose falls in this Index; it’s pretty clear that if they had an effective Attack, and could score goals, they would be in the Playoff race big time.

Others showing well include LA Galaxy (again); Colorado, Columbus, and DC United.

On the tail end it’s Chicago, Montreal, Houston and a much improving Chivas USA.

In terms of looking at the internal key indicators Opponents of Sporting have the worst passing accuracy, averaging just 71.81% per game, Real, Portland, Philadelphia, Chicago, DC United, New England, San Jose, and Colorado all, also, hold their opponents under 76% passing accuracy per game.

With respect to penetration, that tricky category that can be leveraged in so many ways, the leader in allowing opponent penetration this year is Portland (25.97%) with Real Salt Lake a close second (25.08%) followed by FC Dallas, Vancouver, LA Galaxy, DC United and Toronto FC; all ceding greater roughly 23% of their opponents possession into penetration.

I offer this because some teams like to cede some amount of penetration in order to maximize opportunities for quick counter attacks – that can pay off at times but in the case of Portland, this year, it has completely backfired.  Even after this weekend they still have the 3rd worst Goals Against in the league – ceding PK’s hasn’t helped.

But in comparison to LA Galaxy, who has ceded penetration almost as much as Portland, their own Goals Against sits at .94 (2nd best in MLS this year)…

As for Seattle and Sporting?

Sporting cedes the 2nd lowest amount of penetration into their own defending third while Seattle cede the 4th lowest amount of penetration.

In terms of ‘payoff’ (for that stingy final third defense) Sporting has the lowest Goals Against in MLS (.9 per game) while Seattle has the 8th lowest in Goals Against (1.33 per game).

From a ‘top of the table viewpoint’ it would appear stingy is good when it comes to minimizing opponent penetration.

So how do things show for the Composite (CPWP) Index so far (Excluding the CUSA v DCU game today)?



Like the APWP and DPWP Index, both Seattle and Sporting are in the top five – but – so are the LA Galaxy…  (all you need to do is make the playoffs…)

As for the statistical correlations after 19 weeks?

The APWP Correlation to Points in the League Table is (R2) .64; DPWP is (-.57) and CPWP is (.72).

Goal Differential (always the best single indicator) is (.87) while Goals Scored is (.70) and Goals Against is (-.63).

All told, the CPWP Index continues to remain a better overall Team Performance Index than Goals Scored and/or Goals Against.

Before closing here’s the CPWP Predictability Index (CPWP PI)…



An important caveat here; there is a clear difference in how teams perform on the road versus at home – it should be noted that Sporting KC, Chivas USA, Philadelphia, Chicago (And up until yesterday Portland) have all taken more points on the road than at home…

As a reminder the CPWP PI uses the same PWP key indicators with one exception (Goals Scored versus Shots on Goal)…

So while Sporting has the best (home and away) CPWP PI,  the team with the best Away CPWP PI is Columbus, with LA Galaxy, Sporting, Portland and Real Salt Lake rounding out the top five.

In home games Sporting, Seattle, New England, Vancouver, and Colorado round out the top five.

What’s that mean when a team has a high predictability rating and a low points total?  

I think it’s a great indicator of defensive mistakes and/or poor finishing – defensive mistakes when the team has a higher average of Goals Scored and poor finishing when a team has a lower average of Goals Against…

In other words when a team is performing at their best they should have a high Goals Scored and a low Goals Against.

If they already have a low Goals Against then the gap is Goal Scoring…. if they have a high Goals Scored then the gap is Goals Against….

Results versus Expected Results… (CPWP – CPWP PI)…

Overachieving teams – teams that have a higher CPWP than CPWP PI include FC Dallas, DC United, Colorado, LA Galaxy and Columbus Crew – in other words these teams are getting results when the balance of the other PWP Key indicators don’t necessarily point to great results.

A great example here might be where DC United have 13 points from five games where the opponent has given them a PK.

Underachieving teams – teams that have a higher CPWP PI than CPWP include Chicago, Chivas, Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto – in other words these teams are “showing” all the indications of teams that generally do well but aren’t doing well – this could be a great indicator of bad luck or some other issue where something goes pear-shaped.

What’s intriguing for me as a Portland Timbers supporter is the CPWP Index is higher than the CPWP PI; which reinforces my view that the poor results this year are not ‘one-off defensive mistakes’ but a compilation of a more systematic issue with the overall defending…  with the addition of Liam Ridgewell in the back-four perhaps that helps turn the ship towards greater success?

In closing…

Yes, Seattle and Sporting KC are doing well, not only from a ‘table standpoint’ but from a ‘team performance standpoint’; in the overachieving versus underachieving category both teams hover pretty close to zero – in other words the results they get match the expected results they should get…

Best, Chris