MLS – Week 32 – Down to One Battle (Portland or Vancouver)?

The Playoffs are all but settled barring the final team to advance out of the Great Northwest… is it Vancouver or Portland?

Given that I’ll spend a few minutes on each team offering up some strengths and weaknesses but first; as usual the Possession with Purpose Family of Indices beginning with the Composite Index:

CPWP Strategic Index MLS Week 32

Note that like last year the teams with a positive CPWP Index rating are all in the Playoffs.

In addition – the correlation (R2) of this Index to Average Points in the League Table remains .85…  better than last year’s .77.

The pear-shaped anomaly is Portland versus Vancouver, at this time…

If Portland squeak in then the Index is ten for ten…  that’s two reasons why I think Portland still advances; the other is I just simply love following and watching the Timbers play… apart from when their defense melts.

Anyhow – I digress…  the main reason why Portland is so high in this Index comes down to one thing – Attack – and like last week and for the better part of this season they are third best in their overall attack as seen below:

APWP Strategic Index MLS Week 32

The most obvious reason for this high rating is down to Goals Scored – but:

They are also 6th best in overall possession (52.12%) compared to Vancouver who are 7th worst.

That is deceiving though – worst is probably the incorrect word and here’s why.

Paul Robinson plays to a different style than Caleb Porter… Paul likes to run counter-attacking a bit more and is willing to cede possession in order to generate time and space based upon the opponent making mistakes.

On the other hand Caleb is more willing to let his more aggressive attacking scheme generate that needed time and space a bit more…

With respect to passing accuracy – not much between these two teams… Portland averages 67.35% while Vancouver averages 67.00% – that’s after 33 games and 6513 passes for Portland and 6534 passes for Vancouver…

In looking at Possession with the intent to Penetrate – Portland sits at 23.80% while Vancouver sits at 23.47% – so that pretty much means – with two different styles both teams penetrate roughly the same amount based upon almost exactly the same amount of passes.

And the differences aren’t that much as the teams look to score either; Portland takes shots 37.66% of the time they penetrate while Vancouver takes shots 35.15% of the time they penetrate.  And if you read this article you may see why the Timbers didn’t score against Real Salt Lake last Friday.

So here’s where the big difference takes shape – and the real attacking talent of the Timbers separates itself from Vancouver.

Portland average 36.33% of their Shots Taken being on Goal – while Vancouver average just 26.32%.

That difference, in overall shooting accuracy, sees Portland averaging 1.79 goals per game while Vancouver averages just 1.24 goals per game.

Yet… Vancouver are on the leading edge of making the Playoffs – why is that?  Defense.  And here’s the DPWP Strategic Index to begin to highlight the difference:

DPWP Strategic Index MLS Week 32

So what are the details?

We already know that opponents of the Timbers possess the ball less than opponents of the Whitecaps – so volume of possession is not the issue here.

In terms of passing accuracy, opponents of the Timbers average 76.09% passing accuracy while opponents of Vancouver average 77.48% passing accuracy.

What’s that mean?

Well one view, my view, is that with added possession, the opponent for the Whitecaps is seeing an increase in their own passing accuracy because they have more time and space outside the Vancouver Defending Final Third.  Those passes are easier and perhaps more frequent than those inside the Whitecaps Defending Final Third.

What about penetration?

Opponents of Vancouver penetrate 23.33% of the time they possess the ball while opponents of Portland penetrate 26.95% of the time they possess the ball.

Realistically what this is indicating is the Whitecaps yield possession outside their Defending Final Third (FAR) better than Portland.

Portland opponents have less possession, by almost 4% points compared to Vancouver opponent’s, and yet the Timbers also cede penetration by as much as 3% more…

In other words Portland’s line is probably playing too high… or their defenders are too exposed given their higher rate of attack?

There may be other reasons but those two are usually worthy ones to consider… perhaps others have a different view?

As an example… on altering the defensive line and how it can alter Goals Against can be found here: Philadelphia Union.

So how about Shots Taken per penetrating possession?

Opponents of Portland also generate more shots taken per penetration (18.16%) versus Vancouver opponent’s at 16.97%.  So, again not only is the volume higher the percentage is higher…

In addition, the opponent’s are more accurate against Portland (35.32%) in putting those shots on goal.

Whereas Whitecaps opponents put just 32.10% on goal.  And likewise here – not only is the percentage higher but the volume is higher – a lose-lose situation for Portland in comparison to Vancouver.

Finally, the Timbers opponent’s end up with 29.32% of those Shots on Goal scoring, for a Goals Against of 1.58.  While the Whitecaps are again lower with an opponent success rate of 26.17% with a Goals Against of 1.21.

In Closing:

I’m not sure the picture can be any more clear than that…

Sadly, or happily, depending on who you follow – the Vancouver Whitecaps, at this time, reinforce that a team who defends better will go further in a Championship run than a team who attacks better.

And given that complete dominance in defensive difference it’s highly unlikely that just one or two players have fixed the defense compared to how bad it was last year.

However viewed, Rosenstadt Til I Die!

Rosenstadt Til I Die

Best, Chris

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