Earthquakes, Shake, Rattle and Roll-Over

Not the best of seasons for San Jose this year – what started as a renewed vision for Mark Watson, this season, has now turned to a renewed vision for Dominic Kinnear next season.

Like Chicago Fire (Candle Burned at Both Ends) and Houston Dynamo (Dynamic Dynamo Demagnatized as Dominic Departs) I’ll be peeling back the good, bad and ugly for San Jose this season with the intent of identifying what positional changes might be needed to help this team get better.

As usual, to set the stage, here’s my Composite PWP Strategic Index for the end of 2014.  

CPWP STRATEGIC INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 COMBINED

There’s San Jose (SJFC), sandwiched near bottom in-between Houston and Montreal.

Before digging into the what’s and why’s of my Possession with Purpose Family of Indices here’s the breakdown on the regular statistics that most people pay attention to; at least those who only focus on results:

All told just .88 Points Per Game (PPG); with Goals Per Game (GPG) at 1.03 and Goals Against Per Game (GAPG) at 1.47.

Not enough goals scored and clearly too many goals scored against.  All told their Goal Differential (GD) was -.44 – 5th worst in MLS.

In Away games PPG was .53, GPG .82, GAPG 1.71 and GD -.88 (5th worst in MLS).

For Home games PPG was 1.24 (2nd worst), GPG 1.24, GAPG was 1.24 and GD was 0.00 (2nd worst in MLS).

All told San Jose were near bottom in every basic results driven statistic this year with the Away record (1-6-10) even worse than their paltry Home  record (5-6-6).

And they are bringing in Dominic Kinnear?  Well I suppose (3-2-12) in Away games and (8-4-5) is better for Home games, from a results perspective.

But how about overall team attacking and defending performance?  And is there a light already shining that many may have missed?

Team Attacking (both home and away):

APWP STRATEGIC INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 COMBINED

Notice that San Jose fall even lower in overall team attacking than either Chicago or Houston, two teams already evaluated.  

If you read those reports you’ll know both were pretty poor in overall attacking.  So if you’re a San Jose supporter brace yourself for some pretty ugly numbers.

Possession Percentage:

Overall 48.81% – almost middle of the road and on its own an indicator that won’t offer much given Playoff teams like FC Dallas, Vancouver, DC United, and New England all slid under 50%.

Is there a difference between away games and home games?  In away games it was 47.40% vs at home 50.22%.

So IF any early conclusions might be drawn it’s this – they had a better record at home and they averaged more possession at home – is it reasonable to offer that the more possession this team has the better they are?  We’ll see…

Passing Accuracy:

Overall 76.86% – dead on average (10th) compared to everyone else.  Again, teams like FC Dallas, DC United, and New England fell below that number and they all made the playoffs.

In looking at away versus home games; away games 75.94% vs at home 77.78%; a bit higher at home than away – again the same question – does increased possession and increased passing accuracy help plot where San Jose is more successful?

Penetrating Possession:

Overall 21.92% – below average (7th worst).  Only FC Dallas and DC United fell lower than San Jose.

In looking at away versus home games; in away games 21.93% vs at home 21.91%.

Here’s where the rubber begins to meet the road…  notice that with less possession, and less passing accuracy in away games, the Earthquakes actually penetrated more into the opponents Defending Final Third.

This sort of pattern has shown itself with other teams – more often than not it leads to these observations – a more direct attacking style (get in as quickly as you can) and a less impatient approach as the team begins to work towards scoring goals.

In other words their shooting accuracy drops off, as does their goals scored.

Let’s see if this is the case with San Jose.

Shots Taken per penetrating possession:

Overall 16.46% – well below average (4th worst) (or best) depending on a few things – teams with higher passing accuracy usually have lower percentages here, in this case San Jose is on the cusp, if you will.

Their overall percentage seems to indicate more patience when it comes to taking shots – which in turn should mean a higher percentage of shots taken being on goal. That’s not the case though – they are 3rd worst in MLS when it comes to shots taken being on goal (33.93%).

So without knowing the exact locations of the shots taken I’d offer they need a stronger attacking system to generate more time and space to increase their shots on goal and goals scored.

As for away games; their percentage dropped down to 12.81% while at home it was 20.11%.  That is a marked difference in percentage of shots taken per penetrating possession.  It’s almost like Jekyll and Hyde.

Perhaps that is a big enough difference to say that their attack was so basic (simple) in away games, this past year, that they simply didn’t get that many shots off because they telegraphed what they were trying to do?

In other words they didn’t have enough creativity to generate better chances.

An indicator here may be their passing accuracy.

In the opponents Defending Final Third it was 60.72% for away games – 5th worst.  So even though they offered 107 passes per game (10th best in MLS) they could only complete 65 of those passes.

And of those 65 passes completed, only eight of them ended up creating a shot taken!  For me speaking to no time, no space, and/or simply no-one willing to take a shot even if a marginal amount of time and space did become available.

Shots on Goal per Shots Taken:

Overall 33.93% (3rd worst).

So not only did they take fewer shots per penetration (far fewer in away games) they were also less accurate than most when it came to putting those shots on goal.

Again, speaking to lack of time and space, and perhaps location too?

In away games 33.05% versus at home 34.81%.

In going back to the ‘more means more’ aspect of San Jose.  More possession and better passing accuracy does mean more shots taken and it also means more shots on goal.

In looking at away games less means less – in other words less possession, less passing accuracy, means less shots taken per penetration and less shots on goal.

Not every team behaves like that – some do better with less than more.  In considering this output pattern it’s not the same as Houston or Chicago – it’s different – which means the tactical approach is probably different as well.  More to follow…

Goal Scored per Shots on Goal:

Overall 22.50% (2nd worst).

In tracking the ‘more means more and less means less’ the percentages for this indicator should be lower in away games and higher in home games.

It is – in away games it’s 20.88% (2nd worst) and for home games it’s 24.12% (still 2nd worst) but a better 2nd worst than the away game outputs!

Attacking summary:

More meant more for San Jose when at home and less meant less when on the road – but in both cases neither approach provided consistency in getting results.  

In other words they didn’t have enough “more” to generate “more” and their less meant less…

All told I submit these attacking issues not only speak to San Jose needing better strikers – they also need better midfielders – those with greater vision, greater patience, but at the same time a wee bit more risk.

With all that offered about Attack – here’s the view from how well the opponents did against them in the same categories:

DPWP STRATEGIC INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 COMBINED

If there is a good news story here it should be defending – overall their team performance sees them as 9th best in DPWP.

Opponent Possession Percentage:

Overall 51.19% – as noted, possession alone is not an indicator of value without better understanding all the other key indicators to go with it.

In this case it’s pretty clear San Jose is not a possession based team away from home (52.60%) but they are at home – or at least they don’t cede possession (49.78%) for opponents when playing at home.

Opponent Passing Accuracy:

Overall 77.95% – opponents average accuracy is 8th best, against San Jose, in MLS.

In away games opponents average 79.81% (4th highest) and 76.10% when playing in San Jose (8th lowest).

So the Earthquakes cede possession on the road and they also cede a higher opponent passing accuracy – that higher possession and passing accuracy outside the Defending Final Third also translates to having the 5th highest opponent passing accuracy (67.83%) within and into the Defending Final Third.

For home games that opponent passing accuracy drops to 65.40%.

Before moving on – the volumes ceded are quite high as well.

Overall, San Jose opponents average 435 passes per game (9th highest) with 442 by the opponent in road games and 427 for opponents in home game.

As the opponent penetrates that volume equals 124 passes attempted (2nd highest) by opponents visiting San Jose and 124 when facing opponents on the road (5th highest).

So even though passing accuracy for the opponent isn’t that high – the volume, after finally gaining penetration is 2nd and 5th highest in MLS.  More to follow on that…

Opponent Penetrating Possession:

Overall 24.60% (5th highest) with that percentage being 24.15% (7th highest) for opponents on the road and 25.05% (2nd highest) for opponents facing San Jose at home.

With that high percentage of penetration better defending teams will begin to show a higher number of shots taken against percentage but in turn a lower shots on goal percentage and, ultimately, a lower goals against percentage.

In other words the better defending teams leverage the reduced space to influence and reduce time and space for the opponent to strike the ball, put it on target and score the goals.

Shots Taken per Penetrating Possession:

Overall 19.71% (5th highest) with that percentage being 21.01% (3rd highest) for opponents on the road and 18.41% (8th highest) for opponents facing San Jose at home.

The pattern holds true so far… how about percentages of Shots on Goal per Shots Taken?

Shots on Goal per Shots Taken:

Overall 35.53% (9th lowest) – the trend continues – while on the road opponents average 36.12% (9th lowest) and 34.93% (8th lowest) when opponents face San Jose at home.

Goals Scored per Shots on Goal:

Overall 24.92% (2nd lowest in MLS) – again, the positive defending team performance continues to follow the pattern.  In away games it’s 26.11% (3rd lowest) and at home it’s 23.73% (3rd lowest).

Bottom line here (the more to follow from earlier) is that the pattern of strong defending team performance matches that of some of the better teams in MLS – what hurts San Jose are not the overall percentages in execution – it’s the volume that they face in execution.

All told they face the most opponent shots per game (away) at 17.35, the 2nd most shots on goal (away) at 6.24 per game – but only the 9th highest goals against per game.

And when looking at how opponents do in San Jose, it’s 14.65 (highest) shots taken, 5.06 shots on goal (highest) but just 1.24 goals against (9th highest).

Defending summary:

The team percentages are indicative of a healthy defending tactical approach – in other words the performance indicators all point to a solid defending approach with one BIG exception.

Volume – while the percentages are good the volume of opponent activity is high – in other words – more volume up front against San Jose results in more volume at the back end…

BUT not as much volume as might be expected; especially when looking at the volume of shots taken and shots on goal – compared to the volume of goals scored.  What that indicates to me is that the central part of the defending corps is strong – as is their goal keeper.

In Closing:

More means more is a trend and tendency of teams like Barcelona, FC Bayern, Real Madrid, Chelsea FC, LA Galaxy, and others – but that more is usually where the volumes exceed (in attack) 600 passes per game, 200 passes per game in the opponents defending final third, 16 shots per game, with 6-10 on goal and at least 2 goals scored.

More does not mean “more” when total passes hits just 400, penetrating passes hits just 100, shots taken hits 8 per game with 3-4 on goal and less than a goal scored!

The attacking tactical approach for San Jose was the wrong approach and had the wrong players – will Dominic Kinnear fix that?

Probably – but it may take at least five to six new starters with almost all of them being on the attacking side of the pitch.

On the defending side of the pitch – all indicators seem to point to a healthy relationship.

What is missing, however, is a solution that includes reducing the overall volume of attack by their opponents.

A reasonable way to reduce the volume of attack by your opponents is to increase your own volume of attack; i.e. reduce their possession by increasing your own possession.

But that’s tricky and it’s not always a sure-thing.

We’ve seen that ceding possession can be effective ways of improving defending team performance; perhaps that is the case when the overall technical ability of the defenders lacks compared to a group of four like San Jose have?

I’m not sure but it seems reasonable Dominic Kinnear will shape his team to his style – what will be intriguing is to see if ‘his’ style changes next year compared to how he worked his style this year.

Best, Chris

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