With Wade Barrett as the interim Head Coach I thought I’d offer a scouting report on this team for your consideration.
As a caveat – I have not viewed any team video nor have a I seen Houston play this year. A report like this would be used, in my view, prior to reviewing team video. There are two ways to read this – read the details to begin with and then read the underlined summaries – or simply read the underlined summaries.
That said, here’s what the tea-leaves offer to me in reviewing team performance statistics publicly available for all to view.
- My information indicates an average possession percentage of 45.42% with no real variation between home and away games.
- Passing accuracy, unlike possession, varies from home or away games (72% versus 69% respectively).
- In terms of overall penetration percentage – both home and away games see them averaging just under 30% of total possession in the attacking third.
- And of those completed passes within the attacking final third 18.32% of them end up creating shots taken in home games and just over 16% of them end up with shots taken in away games.
- Overall that sees Houston with the 2nd lowest total possession percentage, 2nd lowest passing accuracy percentage, 3rd highest percentage of overall passes completed in the attacking final third compared to the entire pitch, and 9th worst shots taken per completed pass in the attacking final third.
In other words – low possession percentages, low passing accuracy percentages, higher than normal volumes of penetration resulting in lower volumes of shots taken per completed pass.
- Two years ago, under Dom Kinnear, they were 9th overall in possession, 11th overall in passing accuracy, 5ht highest in percentage of overall passes completed in the attacking final third compared to the entire pitch, and 6th highest in shots taken per completed pass within the attacking final third.
- Last year, under Owen Coyle, they were 7th lowest in overall possession, 6th worst in overall passing accuracy, 8th best in percentage of overall passes completed in the attacking final third compared to the entire pitch, and 9th worst in shots taken per completed pass within the attacking final third.
Bottom line here is, under Owen Coyle, the Houston Dynamo had worse team attacking performance indicators than they did under Dom Kinnear. And it would appear the majority of their attacking scheme relied on quick ball movement – front to back – and that hurried pace appears to have negatively impacted their volume of shots. Said differently, it would appear they had a higher than average volume of wasted penetration.
Other team attacking statistics:
- Aerials won = near top of the league (15.8 per game)
- Crosses per game = near top of the league (20 per game)
- Long Balls = mid-table in the league (71 per game)
- Short passes = bottom of the league (283 per game)
- Average length of pass = near top of the league (21 meters per pass)
- Total volume of passes this year = near bottom of the league (3,900 in total compared to Kansas City (top in the league at 6,012)
- Dribbling = second worst in the league in dribbles per game (4.5 per game)
- Key passes = 5th worst in the league (90 in total)
- With just 4.5 dribbles per game the playing style seems more about first touch, second touch, and pass, than taking time to turn, dribble and create/make space.
- Given the higher volume of longer passes, more crossing, less dribbling, lower passing accuracy, fewer key passes, and less possession I would offer Houston are a second-chance (direct) ball attacking team with very little possession-based penetration.
- Predictability is a word that comes to mind and the only manufactured un-predictability is generated through second-chance ball rebounds.
- When viewing video it’d be interesting to see which players are more comfortable on the ball.
- I’d also offer it appears the majority of players are not very good at creating individual space for themselves or for teammates.
- A weakness of many teams in this league I’d offer.
- Another potential takeaway is that the lower passing accuracy is also a resultant of the back-four having to relieve pressure through clearances or simply putting the ball out of play instead of gaining higher volumes of passes by starting out of the back.
- My information indicates Houston have the highest percentage of shots on goal per shots taken (56.85%).
- At the same time that highest average in accuracy results in having the 7th worst goals scored per shots on goal.
- 41% of all shots taken come from the left wing, while 36% come from the right wing and only 23% come from the middle of the pitch.
In other words they are extremely strong at putting the shot on target but very ineffective in scoring and very predictable in where they will attack from.
- Two years ago, under Dom Kinnear, they were 2nd worst in putting shots on goal from shots taken and worst in scoring goals per shots on goal.
- Last year, under Owen Coyle, they were 5th worst in shots on goal per shots taken Shots Taken and 7th worst in goals scored per shots on goal.
Said differently, Houston has done a better job of creating chances under Owen Coyle but been far worse in converting those chances to goals scored – does that equate to ‘lacking a goal scorer?
- I’d offer they probably have a reasonable striker on their team but they don’t have the same ability, as they did under Kinnear, to create more time and better space to score the goal. I do not track individual striker statistics – never have – too many unknowns to see value in drawing conclusions. I’d welcome thoughts from those closer to Houston – and no – I don’t rely on Expected Goals – it’s over-valued in my view; great idea but not reliable.
In Closing the book on Attacking:
- I’d offer their attacking support provided by the fullbacks and midfielders is a concern.
- Whether that comes from Owen Coyle 1) employing the wrong tactics, given the skills of his players, 2) his players not executing their roles or 3) the players don’t have the skills to execute more possession-based penetration in attacking is unclear.
- In viewing activities from other MLS teams, over the last 3 years, I’d offer Houston probably needs 2 to 3 more midfielders and perhaps another fullback or two.
- Two other questions come to mind:
- Has Owen Coyle ever run this team with inverted wingers?
- Do the training sessions focus on 1/2/3 touch football or perhaps as much as 5 touch football?
- I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a team practice extended touch-turn-dribble-turn-touch/pass training; a lost art in my view.
- Too much quick ball movement training – in my view – leads to minimizing thinking and decision making on the pitch – with or without the ball… and 95% of the game is mental…
- My information indicates an average opponent possession percentage of 54.5% with no real variation between home and away games.
- Opponent passing accuracy percentages are 75.92%; above the league average.
- In terms of overall opponent penetration percentage – both home and away games see them averaging 23.87% of total possession in the Houston defending third.
- And of those completed passes, by the opponent, within their defending final third 20.75% of them end up creating shots taken; that is 3rd highest in the league.
- Overall that sees opponents for Houston with the 2nd best possession percentage, 11th best passing accuracy percentage, 11th highest percentage of overall passes completed in the Houston defending final third compared to the entire pitch, and 3rd highest percentage of shots taken per completed pass in their defending final third.
In other words the opponents are not only having possession, they are successful in penetrating, and creating shots taken given that penetration.
- Two years ago, under Dom Kinnear, Houston opponent’s were mid-table in possession, 4th most accurate in passing, 12th best in percentage of overall penetration per completed pass, and 4th highest in yielding shots taken given that penetration.
- Last year, under Owen Coyle, Houston opponent’s were 7th best in possession, 5th worst in passing accuracy, 12th best in percentage of overall penetration per completed pass, and 8th lowest in yielding shots taken given that penetration.
- I’d submit the defending unit, this year, has regressed from last year. Said differently, it doesn’t appear they are very successful in limiting the opponent’s time and space to create shots taken given any type of penetration.
- Houston opponent’s have the 3rd best shots on goal per shots taken ratio (41.32%) but the 6th worst goals scored per shots on goal.
Said differently, the overall volume of possession and penetration is resulting in higher accuracy of shots on goal – that translates to more goals scored even though the percentage of goals scored per shots on goal is not high.
Or… it may appear that their goal keeper is actually keeping them in the game when, otherwise, their defensive unit is faltering or… the inability of the opponent to finish their chances could play a part too; Houston opponent’s have the 6th highest average number of missed chances, per game against Houston, of any team in MLS.
- Two years ago, under Dom Kinnear, Houston opponents only saw ~35% of their shots taken result in being on goal but their conversion rate of goals scored to shots on goal was 8th best at ~33%
- Last year, under Owen Coyle, Houston opponents were 4th best in shots on goal per shots taken and 3rd best in goals scored per shots on goal.
In other words it also appears their defensive ability in stopping shots, under Owen Coyle, has regressed in the last two years.
- I’d offer either 1) the defensive tactical approach is inadequate against the majority of MLS teams 2) the defensive capabilities of the players didn’t meet the tactical roles Coyle offered, 3) team scouting reports were not effective enough in identifying opponent attacking characteristics/trends, or 4) the defensive skills of the players simply isn’t good enough compared to the attacking skills of the opponents.
In Closing the book on Defending:
- I’d submit the defending unit has regressed – i.e. not kept up with the opponent’s progressions in attacking.
- Are there organizational weaknesses in scouting, training, tactical preparation, or skilled players? Not sure – but it appears systemic.
- It’s unclear (without watching video) what the issues are in defending – they don’t make defensive mistakes (as measured) like many other teams in MLS – intuiting that it’s the tactics that are pear-shaped.
- Playing direct all the time is like riding a dead horse. When riding a head horse do you:
- Buy a stronger whip?
- Develop a training session to improve that horse?
- Remind ourselves that other clubs ride this same horse?
- Name the dead horse “paradigm shift” and keep riding it?
- Remember all the good times you had while riding that horse?
- Take a positive outlook – pronounce that the dead horse doesn’t have to be fed – it is less costly, carries lower overhead and therefore contributes substantially more to the bottom line of the team’s budget than do some other horses?
- I’d offer you get a new, more flexible horse that can be rode many different ways.
I can offer this type of scouting report on any team in Major League Soccer – in some cases I can provide even more detail – especially for teams I regularly watch on TV.
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