Major League Soccer – Week 28 – A Union divided? Not now…

Twenty eight games in – the screws are tightening and the pucker factor hit the Vancouver Whitecaps big time; see here: Valeri’s vicious volley from Villafana vanquishes Vancouver.

For me though, the real story is how the tables have turned in Philadelphia – I’ll get to that in just a wee bit – for now here’s my usual Possession with Purpose Family of Indices:

CPWP Strategic Index Week 28 MLS
CPWP Strategic Index Week 28 MLS

At this stage the top ten teams above the red line are the top ten teams in the Index.  Good; the End State of trying to match the league table without points seems to be holding steady and the correlation this week (R2) remains a steady and strong .82.

There are at least two key issues this week – who continues to push up the table to make the Playoffs and who continues to push for the Supporter’s Shield – Seattle took a hit this week – but – then again they won the US Open Cup – winning silver is never a bad thing.

In terms of making the Playoffs – tight races for sure.  Some teams have a possible 18 points to get while some others have 15 points to get – with that many points available Vancouver, Philadelphia, Colorado, Toronto, Houston, and even San Jose are still in the hunt.

Moving on to the APWP Strategic Index and peeling back changes to the Philadelphia Union: 

APWP Strategic Index Week 28 MLS
APWP Strategic Index Week 28 MLS

LA Galaxy continue to be attack mad – and some familiar faces appear up near the top as well – remember Portland and New York from last year?  Well… they are still here and still dangerous.

But this isn’t about those three teams – today’s focus is about Philadelphia and how the Union have come together.  In order to see that let’s peel back how they differ from earlier this year with John Hackworth leading the cause.

Here’s the statistical details – do they show any changes?  

  • The average number of total passes with John was 454 per game; under Jim it’s 367 per game – a HUGE difference!
  • The average amount of possession with John was 50.85%; under Jim it’s 44.04% – a HUGE difference!
  • The average penetration per possession under John was 22.04%; under Jim it’s 26.14% – in terms of volume that also represents a HUGE difference!
  • The average Shots Taken per penetrating possession under John was 20.11%; under Jim it’s 19.06% – not big but worthy…
  • The average Shots on Goal per Shot Taken under John was 29.83%; under Jim it’s 38.30% – a HUGE difference!
  • The average Goals Scored per Shots on Goal under John was 36.78%; under Jim it’s 41.14% – a HUGE difference!
  • The average Goals Scored under John was 1.17; under Jim it’s 1.93 – a HUGE difference!

In all, there are considerable differences in team attacking performances under the direction of John Hackworth versus Jim Curtin.

This isn’t offering that one coach is better than the other; what it does offer – however – is that with a slightly different playing style – the output of a team, with the same players, can change.

Top be precise, the volume of passes, and percentages of possession, penetration, shots on goal, and goals scored are considerably different; and those differences do lead to an increase in goals scored and total points.

Said a different way – the Union are possessing the ball less – which in turn means the opponent is possessing the ball more, which, in turn,  means there is more time and space in the opponent’s own Defending Final Third if the opponent loses the ball and the Union can capitalize on that open space.

Might the Union Defending team performance indicators support that?  Let’s see; here’s the DPWP Strategic Index:

DPWP Strategic Index Week 28 MLS
DPWP Strategic Index Week 28 MLS

In looking specifically at the Union; here’s the breakdown on the Union Defending team performance outputs under John Hackworth versus Jim Curtin:

  • The opponent average number of total passes with John was 440 per game; under Jim it’s 468 per game – a big difference!
  • The opponent average amount of possession with John was 48.90%; under Jim it’s 55.96% – a HUGE difference!
  • The opponent average penetration per possession under John was 21.26%; under Jim it’s 21.25% – no difference!
  • The opponent average volume of passes in the Union Defending Final Third with John was 101.50; under Jim it’s 126.27 – a large increase in volume of penetration.
  • The opponent average volume of passes completed in the Union Defending Final Third with John was 69.07; under Jim it’s 81.05 – an increase in volume of completed passes in the Union Defending Final Third.
  • The opponent  average Shots Taken per penetrating possession under John was 19.49%; under Jim it’s 13.95% – a worthy difference…
  • The opponent average Shots on Goal per Shot Taken under John was 39.61%; under Jim it’s 37.78% – a worthy difference…
  • The opponent average Goals Scored per Shots on Goal under John was 36.90%; under Jim it’s 34.12% – a worthy difference…
  • The opponent average Goals Scored under John was 1.71; under Jim it’s 1.25 – a HUGE difference!

In all, there are worthy differences in team defending performance between John and Jim.

In answering the leading question into DPWP – the answer is yes…

  • The volume of penetration has increased markedly under the leadership of Jim Curtin in comparison to John Hackworth – it’s that difference that leads many to believe that the defensive line of the back-four has dropped deeper…
  • In addition, with dropping deeper, it’s expected that the space will get tighter – with less space, and time, opponent shots taken and shots on goal volume should decrease.
  • Under John, the opponents volume of shots taken was 12.36 per game with 4.79 shots on goal per game – under Jim, shots taken is 11.40 per game while shots on goal is 4.00 per game.
  • So they not only decrease in volume, they also decrease in percentage as noted in the bullets above.
  • Finally, under John Hackworth, Goals Against were 1.70 per game; under Jim Curtin they are 1.36.

Bottom line here – the Union are simply better in defending, and in turn, their deeper drop, in defending, has led to an improved attack.

In Closing:

For those only interested in Total Points – under John Hackworth – the Philadelphia Union had earned 11 points in 14 games; under the guidance of Jim Curtin (now) the team has 27 points from 15 games.

If that pattern continues (1.8 points per game) the Union could finish with 47 points – and in an Eastern Conference – that just may be enough to make the Playoffs.

All for now …

Later this week, my run down on the English Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, and a special review on Expected Wins looking at all four leagues together…

Looking to answer this question – is comparing individual players on Barcelona to FC Koln, to Southampton, to LA Galaxy worthy given that the four leagues all have different patterns to winning – or do they?

Best, Chris

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