Portland Timbers and the MLS Playoffs

It’s the final game of the regular season in MLS and those of us in Portland are hopeful the season continues.

In preparation for tomorrow a couple of questions come to mind given their latest form as well as their overall performance this year.

First off – and perhaps foremost on everyone’s mind is the answer to this question – will the Timbers trot out in the most recent formation given the comprehensive win in LA and the very solid performance in Salt Lake?

  • No…  for a couple of reasons – the one most reasonable to share with you is this one – the best 11 players Caleb indicated he’d rely on to start this game don’t fit the single pivot.
  • Those best 11, in my view, at this time, are Jorge Villafana, Liam Ridgewell, Nat Borchers, Alvas Powell, Diego Chara, George Fochive, Rodney Wallace, Lucas Melano, Fenando Adi, and Adam Kwarasey.
  • No Michael Nanchoff?  Aye; and not because he isn’t a good player.
  • For Caleb it’s down to evidence of information in team performance throughout the course of the season.  Be it good or bad Michael simply doesn’t have quality minutes and a portfolio of games played to substantiate he’d be able to start and replace what Diego Valeri can bring in such a huge game.
  • So the recourse is to rely on George Fochive, working with Diego Chara, while Darlington Nagbe steps in as the attacking midfielder.  As to where Rodney Wallace and Lucas Melano line up – figure that one is more about setting up the best individual match-ups that take advantage of the opponent’s weaknesses or mitigate their strengths.
  • So – hypothetically – what if Diego Valeri hadn’t drawn the silly yellow?  Yes, it is likely the best 11 players would have led to Caleb leveraging the single pivot.

Second – is Caleb Porter likely to overlook Colorado as an easy victory?

  • No… for a couple of reasons – the one most reasonable to share with you is this one – Caleb knows that parity runs rampant in this league and as just proved last week anyone can win anywhere – who’da thought five goals?
  • I could offer up a couple of team performance statistics to support that claim but the one most are familiar with is my Possession with Purpose Index.
  • To set the stage for this game I think there is value in looking at 2013, 2014, and then now (week 33 of 2015).

First off 2013:

End of Season 2013 MLS Coaching Changes

Note the number of teams falling in the range of +/- .05 (6 of them) while the difference between first and worst is .60.

A couple of other thoughts while looking back at 2013:

  • Note the different colored stars – the red stars indicate coaching changes where the coach was sacked and the yellow stars show where a coaching change was made mid-season.  Not pictured, but relevant to the question of parity, is the correlation (r) of this index to points earned in the league table – it was .84 – pretty high and the highest index correlation of any index in modern day soccer.
  • Also note that the Timbers finished at the very top of the Index – most would agree the Timbers were very much a possession-based team that looked to control the tempo of the game through possession, passing and quality penetration leading to quality shots, shots on goal and goals scored.

Next up is the end of season CPWP Index for 2014:

CPWP STRATEGIC INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 COMBINED

Note the number of teams falling in the range of +/- .05 (2 of them) and like 2013 the difference between first and worst is .60.

A couple of other thoughts while looking back at 2014:

  • While there aren’t any stars on this index it should be noted that Chivas USA is now defunct and that Houston, Toronto, and San Jose sacked their head coaches while Montreal and Chicago sacked their head coaches, roughly mid season, this year.  Also note the (r) (incorrectly labeled R2 here) is .85.
  • Meaning that in both 2013 and 2014 the overall quality (performance of a team relative to percentages in possession, passing, penetration, shot creation, and goal scoring) of a team had a very good correlation to that team earning points.
  • For the Timbers:  Note the slight drop compared to 2013.  If you followed my analysis of 2014 you’ll know the defense wasn’t that sharp to begin and Caleb had to adjust the depth of his back four and the general tenor of the attack.
  • In doing this the Timbers dropped deeper in the final third of the season (probably not soon enough) and began to play a bit more direct (as a real attacking option).

Now to 2015:

MLS Week 33 CPWP Index

Notice the number of teams falling in the range of +/- .05 (10 of them) while the difference between first and worst is .41.

This pretty much means that the overall team performance (the composite percentages in quality from start to finish) are separated by less than 5% for 10 teams – compared to just two teams in 2014 and six teams in 2013.  So for me that means more teams are more equal, in quality performance, than in previous years.

And the difference between first and worst has dropped 19% moving from .60 to .41.  This difference, for me, means the overall quality of performance between the worst to the first team is smaller, and that smaller equals greater parity….

A couple of other thoughts about 2015 relative to what we’ve seen in previous years:

  • This year we’ve seen much more in the way of direct play – especially for teams in the top half of the table.
  • Note FCD is fifth best here but tied with the Red Bulls for the Supporters Shield.
  • Also note that both DC United and Vancouver are much further down the index – another indication that teams playing more direct (as in with more of a counter-attacking approach that cedes some possession) are earning more points than 2013.
  • Last but not least – the leading indicator for all this, if you will, is the (r) – the correlation of the index to points earned.  It’s .71 – a full 14% points different from 2014 and to me the statistical indicator that substantiates parity.
  • How about the Timbers?  Instead of being first (2013) or third (2014) in the index they now sit 10th… and they play more direct.  Two other teams who’ve also seen a considerable shift in their index position are Sporting KC and Real Salt Lake; their drop in this index is just as considerable as the Timbers – so statistically – the data is representative.
  • Finally, the other trend on head coaches, as noted both Montreal and Chicago already sacked their head coaches.  If the index continues to be a leading indicator then it’s likely we see a coaching change in Philadelphia as well as Colorado – and – perhaps – if things don’t change we also see a coaching change in Houston and Orlando some time next year?

Third – What was the second half speech about?

  • I didn’t ask Caleb this – members of the media want there to be something special said when it’s highly likely nothing special was said at all.
  • When a team has a 1 goal lead or deficit it is highly unlikely a coach will make major changes to their game plan or make a major speech that ‘motivates’.
  • There may be tweaks here and there to tactics but to expect that there’s a magical phrase or two that can better attribute a five goal outburst is bollocks.
  • And speaking from personal experience – the real tactical changes (when down 1 goal) are more likely to manifest themselves on or around the 60 minute mark – and maybe as late as the 75th minute mark – not at half time.
  • For a head coach to make major adjustments at the half it means he’s failed to establish an effective game plan to begin with or he’s simply selected the wrong players to play the tactical approach he’s selected.  And when that’s the case the scoreline is more like being down two or three goals – not one goal – especially a one-off goal like Keane scored.
  • So for the media to perpetuate something magical happened (in the locker room) that lead to five goals in a span of 25 minutes is silly…

Opinion:  

I hear talk of MLS media beginning to develop their votes for player award selections at year end…

Liam Ridgewell

If rumor is true that Liam Ridgewell is to garner some votes as defender of the year then don’t count me in as a supporter of that.  If anything he’s been the most inconsistent defender this year.

Jorge Villafana

My vote goes to Jorge Villafana – he’s a hard worker who’s got a huge responsibility and many folks simply have no idea how valuable he is in allowing Caleb Porter the flexibility to play a guy like Lucas Melano.

Darlington Nagbe and the USMNT – Word has it that Nagbe will soon be called up.  While some may disagree I don’t.

Nagbe Bags a Whale of a Goal

The USMNT needs a possession-based player.  Their current attacking form is pathetic and has shown no real improvement in the four/five years Klinsmann has led the team.

By bringing on Nagbe the USMNT gets a guy who can accurately pass the ball while also offering up the ability to dribble-drive.  In other words he offers something not currently present in the USMNT midfield.

Best, Chris

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