Coming off a comprehensive thrashing where FC Dallas dominated to San Jose (5-nil this past weekend) Dallas has thrown down the gauntlet that the woeful run last year, and missing the playoffs, is not a likely scenario this year.
And some might offer that San Jose aren’t exactly ‘top flight’ this year – I disagree – up until this last weekend, the Earthquakes were one of the top five defensive teams in MLS – read here for those details…
Possession with Purpose: So just how comprehensive have FC Dallas been, compared to others this year, in both team attack and team defense?
Fourth best in all of MLS – lagging behind Sporting, LA Galaxy, and Seattle…
Before digging in there have been some questions offered up in the past that folks might think this Index is biased towards ‘possession-based’ teams.
I think the results you read here should pretty much prove that is not the case.
I can’t find a better example, this year, where the lack of possession and passing accuracy, for a team, has absolutely nothing to do with how effective they are in this Index.
Follow along for the examples and strategic team performance data as I show you why…
Attacking Possession with Purpose (APWP) Index:
Second best in all of Major League Soccer…
Peeling back on the ‘why’…
- Possession Percentage – FCD are 5th worst, on average, at 47.06%
- Passing Accuracy across the Entire Pitch – FCD are 7th worst, on average, at 76.03%
- Passing Accuracy within the Final Third – See Below…
- FCD are 3rd worst, on average, at 61.72%
- Penetration Percentage per Completed Passes – FCD are 2nd worst, on average, at 19.74%
- Shots Taken per Penetration Possession – FCD are 4th best, on average, at 20.71% (the tide begins to turn)….
- Shots on Goal per Shots Taken – FCD are 5th best, on average, at 38.35%… the tide continues…
- Goals Scored per Shots on Goal – FCD are BEST in MLS, on average, at 44.09%…
All told – Possession and Passing Accuracy, both within and outside the Final Third, are simply not great indicators for how well this team attacks.
Bottom line at the bottom with respect to attack – it simply doesn’t matter how this team gets the ball into, or around the 18 yard box, when they do – they are dangerous… full stop.
Before moving on to Defending Possession with Purpose (DPWP) two other views for your consideration:
Here’s how those same APWP team performance indicators look when their opponent averages 85% passing accuracy or more:
- Possession Percentage – FCD average 42.56% Possession; 6th best
- Passing Accuracy – FCD average 79.48% accuracy; 4th best
- Percentage of Successful Passes in the Final Third 64.38%; 3rd best
- Penetration Percentage per Complete Passes average 21.50%; 6th best
- Shots Taken per Penetration Percentage average 21.85%; 2nd best
- Shots on Goal per Shots Taken average 38.05%; 6th worst
- Goals Scored per Shots on Goal average 40.37%; 5th best
All told – it would appear that when the opponent is better in their overall passing accuracy FC Dallas are less effective in scoring goals but their average points per game against teams who meet or exceed 85% passing accuracy is 2.33; compared to 1.63 as a whole.
Bottom line here is that better teams (in passing and possession) will NOT do better against FC Dallas than teams who are weaker in passing and possession.
So here’s the APWP information for teams who average 68% passing accuracy or less against FC Dallas:
- Possession Percentage – FCD average 58.75% Possession; 2nd worst
- Passing Accuracy – FCD average 74.57% accuracy; 5th worst
- Percentage of Successful Passes in the Final Third 62.34%; 7th worst
- Penetration Percentage per Complete Passes average 13.99%; worst
- Shots Taken per Penetration Percentage average 20.83%; 3rd best
- Shots on Goal per Shots Taken average 50.00%; best
- Goals Scored per Shots on Goal average 60.00%; best
All told – it would appear that when the opponent is far worse in overall passing accuracy FC Dallas are pretty much unstoppable; they average 3.00 points per game when the opponent is piss-poor in passing…
Bottom line here, as noted earliet, FC Dallas are dangerous in attack no matter how successful or unsuccessful their opponent is in passing – so how can they be beat?
Here’s their DPWP Index – is their a clue here on solving the FC Dallas attack?
I’m not so sure. They are tenth best in all of Major League Soccer…. not really earth shattering – nor pathetic… but perhaps some clues to beating them?
Peeling back on the ‘why’… recognizing that passing accuracy, by the opponents, is not really a good indicator on how to beat them.
- Possession – Opponents of FC Dallas average 52.94% possession; that is the 5th highest amount of possession ceded in MLS
- Passing Accuracy within the FC Dallas Defending Final Third – Opponents average 68.16% passing accuracy within the Dallas Final Third; that is the highest opponent average in passing accuracy of any team in MLS
- Put another way here’s the diagram on Opponent Unsuccessful passes in the Dallas defending Final Third:
- In other words the opponents are very successful in completing passes within the FC Dallas defending third
- Shots Taken per penetrating possession – Opponents of FC Dallas average 18.89% – 9th best in MLS in limiting their opponents Shots Taken per penetration
- Shots on Goal per Shots Taken – Opponents of FC Dallas average 34.42% – that is the 5th highest percentage yielded in MLS
- Where it counts – Goals Scored per Shots on Goal – Opponents of FC Dallas average 25.91%; that is the 3rd lowest success rate by opponents in MLS.
I don’t see compelling information here, pointing one direction or another, that would show team weakness in defending.
All told – Dallas appears to cede possession, penetration and higher rates of passing accuracy to their opponents than other teams in MLS.
Bottom line here is they are average/solid in defense… but a good average – no real compelling clues in this data to be sure.
If there’s a chink in the armor perhaps it’s in Red Cards or Fouls within their own Defending Final Third?
- FC Dallas have the second highest total of Red Cards of any team in MLS (eight) – only Sporting KC are worse (with 12).
- Their sum of Points won is seven when garnering a Red Card and 1.17 Points per game
- Their sum of Points won is 32 when not garnering a Red Card and 1.78 Points per game
Fouls in their own Defending Final Third:
- FC Dallas average the fourth highest number of Fouls in the Defending Final Third (3.29)
- Their sum of Points won is four when conceding five or more fouls in their own defending Final Third; 1.33 Points per game
- Their sum of Points won is 35 when conceding four or fewer fouls in their own defending Final Third; 1.67 Points per game
Bottom line here is yes, there is a weakness; a huge weakness in my opinion. When Dallas get Red Cards or when they exceed five fouls within their own defending Final Third they are very (highly) likely to lose… (drop points).
In attack it’s pretty clear to me that this team is all about goals scored regardless of what approach is used by either team…
In addition – it’s also very clear to me that when FC Dallas lose they lose because they beat themselves…
I’m not sure I’ve seen any team this year provide such a clear message than when they lack discipline they lose – and when they display and execute discipline they win…
Bottom line at the bottom: If a team were looking to win against Dallas I would have thought their best bet is to make it a physical game that includes a wee bit of psychological drama… ‘get into the head of the Dallas players and you have a better chance of winning’…
In looking back at my original question – Are they for real? – I’d say yes…
And are the PWP Indices biased towards possession and passing accuracy? No…
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It’s half-way into the season and clearly the Red Bulls are not the team they were last year. First and foremost, what sticks out to me, is their overall performance in team defense; like Portland their overall Goal Differential (0) pretty much tells the story that their attack is doing fine but their defense is letting them down.
I’ll dig into that in a few minutes but if you’re new to this site it’d be rude for me not to include a link (ahead of time) to give you some background in my analyses. Here’s my introduction to Possession with Purpose (PWP and the Indices) and what it’s all about.
If you don’t want to take the time to read through it the short version is:
- PWP measures six steps in team performance from an attacking and defending viewpoint – those six steps are related to each other in the form of ratios and the final Index number represents that team performance.
- It is surprisingly accurate when compared to the League Table – last year the Index was five for five in identifying the MLS Playoff teams for both conferences and this year, in the World Cup, that same statistical approach was 2 for 2 in identifying the top two teams to make the Finals; a link will be provided later.
Now… back to it and the New York Red Bulls… Here’s how all the teams rack and stack after week 17:
New York are currently 11th best overall in MLS and 5th best in the Eastern Conference; they also happen to be 5th best in the Eastern Conference Table but my Index does not account for points.
Last year at this time New York was a bit higher up, as was Portland (the other Conference winner from last year).
As for the Defending PWP (my focus today) here’s a diagram on how well New York rate against everybody else:
Quite interesting that five of the six worst teams in defensive team performance are in the Eastern Conference.
If you wish to see how the teams lined up in the World Cup this year; click here:
For now, know that being in the bottom half of this Index means the opponents attacking schemes are working very-very well compared to the New York defending schemes.
But Defending Possession with Purpose team statistics don’t tell the whole story.
Part of my PWP analyses also includes collecting other data to supplement PWP; here’s a few of those that focus on other defensive team statistics:
Penetration into their Defending Third: New York has the third lowest amount of passes attempted (in volume) by their opponents in their defending third (99.35 per game); yet their opponent Goals Scored versus Shots on Goal is over 35%; tied for 5th worst in MLS.
So in other words New York may have the run of possession and penetration in attack, but when their opponent does get the ball inside their defending third they are pretty good at making the most of those opportunities.
Corners Conceded: New York is dead middle when it comes to corners conceded (5.12 per game). While average, that does represent at least five set piece opportunities for their opponents each game – and set-pieces can win games.
And if your back four shows a poor history in defensive clearances that can be an issue… more later on that.
Successful Crosses: New York is 4th worst in conceding successful crosses – their opponent success rate is 28.89%. What that means is their opponents – when penetrating at wide angles – are pretty successful in generating goal scoring opportunities in the New York 18 yard box.
And again, when a team is low in their volume of Defensive Clearances that can be an issue…
Defensive Clearances: New York averages the second fewest Defensive Clearances per game (18.53). That low amount of clearances also reflects the higher level of success their opponents have in making successful crosses and also shows potential weaknesses in clearing corner kicks.
It also means that the center-backs and fullbacks (marking the far post) are not regularly positioned well to clear danger when the opponent passes the ball into the 18 yard box.
The observation here is that if clearances are low than one would expect to see reduced levels of successful crosses given the physical presence of fullbacks playing out wider – but they’re not… odd???
I used to be able to track ‘blocked crosses’ (that might confirm or deny that view) but MLS decided (with OPTA) to not offer up that statistic anymore in their OPTA Chalkboard?!?
Penalty Kicks Conceded: The 2nd worst team in conceding PK’s (.41 per game) is New York; another indicator that the defensive players are out of position at the wrong time!
Fouls made in the Defensive Final Third: This is the lone category, out of all these defensive indicating categories, where New York isn’t showing issues; they are 6th best (2.47 per game) in making the fewest fouls in their own Defending Final Third.
So that’s a good thing in minimizing free kicks but it also (may?) reinforce that the back-four are more of the primary issue than the midfielders; lower fouls outside the 18 yard box would indicate the midfield is doing their job – meaning the higher than normal number of PK’s conceded means the back-four aren’t doing their job.
A potentially good indicator to the front office that shoring up the back-four is more critical than shoring up the midfield; perhaps others have a different view?
If you’d like to see a comparison in how Portland are doing in these categories read here.
It’s intriguing to see that both Conference winners from last year are having similar struggles this year.
And like Portland, it appears to me that there are systematic issues with the New York Red Bulls defensive unit.
And… like Portland… I don’t think that gets “fixed” by adding a single player to the back-four. If no changes in leadership (coaching staff) have occurred (between this year and last) then perhaps something has changed in their weekly training scheme?
If no changes there, then it’s likely personnel change(s) (somewhere) need to occur if this team is going to be better in defending.
Portland added a DP in the back four just recently – I’m not sure they have a DP slot available but perhaps the Red Bulls will consider adding/trading for some different defenders?
It’s hard for me to fathom a team wearing orange kits not doing good – just seems wrong to me. And after making the Playoffs last year it seemed reasonable they’d be knocking at the door again this year.
Not true – at least not yet – so this week is a Study in Orange, to an extent, leveraging many of the supplemental statistics I collect in addition to those supporting my Indices.
To get things started here’s the top-to-bottom Attacking (APWP) Index through Week 14 (represents teams with as many as 16 games and as few as 11 games)…
After 14 weeks the APWP Index offers Seattle as the best attacking team in MLS.
What that means is the Sounders are one of top ten teams in possession, passing accuracy, throughout and within the Final Third, while also being effective at taking shots and converting those to shots on target, shots on goal, and goals scored.
Conversely, the most ineffective team in MLS, at this time (consistency wise) is Houston – let’s take a quick look at the differences between these two teams for comparison…
Possession: Seattle = 51.56%; Houston = 47.52%
Passing Accuracy Entire Pitch: Seattle = 77.18%; Houston = 74.78%
Passing Accuracy Final Third: Seattle = 64.88%; Houston = 65.80%
Penetration Percentage into the Final Third: Seattle = 20.09%; Houston = 22.57% *
Shots Taken per Penetration: Seattle = 19.03%; Houston = 20.25% *
Shots on Goal per Shot Taken: Seattle = 40.16%; Houston = 29.06%
Goals Scored per Shot on Goal: Seattle = 43.53%; Houston = 19.24%
Goals Scored per game: Seattle = 2.13; Houston = 1.00
I’ve put an asterisk (*) in two categories to reinforce a great talking point at the World Conference on Science and Soccer last week; teams that appear to penetrate more times per overall possession percentage have a tendency to take more shots that are less effective than teams who are a bit more deliberate in their penetration and shot selection.
Since I don’t track shot location it would be interesting to see the general tendencies of Houston when it comes to shot location.
An exception, and aren’t there exceptions to just about everything, is New England – but only with respect to percentage of penetration per pass completed – their’s is 29.04%; considerably higher than either Seattle or Houston.
A big difference, however, is looking at Shots Taken per penetration – the Revolution average 15.55% in that category.
What that means is the Revolution do penetrate more per possession but they actually take far fewer shots per possession (patience) and in turn their shots on target are 4th best in MLS. That increase in shots on target also drives towards 1.5 goals scored per game.
But back to the deep dive on Dom’s Dynamo; if I were their Sporting Director for the day here’s some additional team performance questions and the answers as of today:
Do we score more goals per game than other teams? No; we are tied for 2nd worst in goals scored per game this year.
Do we give up more PK’s than other teams? Yes, we concede .43 PKs against per game this year; 2nd worst in MLS.
Do we concede more corners than other teams? No; we concede the 7th fewest corners per game this year.
Do we concede more successful crosses than other teams? No; we concede the 6th fewest successful crosses per game this year.
Do we concede the most Yellow Cards than other teams? No; we concede the 3rd fewest Yellow Cards per game this year.
Do we concede the most Red Cards than other teams? Yes; we concede the 5th highest number of Red Cards per game this year.
How are we doing in Defensive Clearances compared to other teams? We have the 6th fewest clearances per game this year.
Do we have the fewest Tackles Won than other teams? Yes; we have the 7th fewest tackles won per game this year.
Do we have the most Offsides than other teams? No; we have the 7th lowest average in offsides per game this year.
Do we have the best passing accuracy across the entire pitch than other teams? No; we have the 6th worst passing accuracy per game this year.
Do we have the best passing accuracy within the final third than other teams? No; we are 8th worst in passing accuracy within the Final Third this year.
Do we have the best Shots on Goal percentage than other teams? No; we are the worst team in MLS putting Shots on Goal per Shots Taken ths year.
Do we have the best Goals Scored percentage than other teams? No; we are the worst team in MLS in Goal Scoring per Shots on Goal this year.
Do we have the best Defensive PWP in stopping their Opponents this year?
No; we are the 4th worst team in preventing their opponent from successful possession, passing accuracy, penetration, shots taken, shots on goal and goals scored against this year.
Here’s a few more questions and answers…
Do we yield concede more fouls in their Defending Third than other teams? Yes; slightly more, we are 8th worst in fouls conceded within their Defending Third.
Do we concede more Goals Against than other teams? Yes; we have the 4th worst Goals Against this year.
Do we have a large Goal Differential than other teams? Yes; we have the 3rd highest Goal Differential this year.
Do our Opponents have a higher average of Passing Accuracy than against other teams? Yes; Opponents of Houston average 78.61% Passing Accuracy; that is 2nd worst this year.
When considering all the other teams and the Composite PWP (the difference between attacking and defending) where is Houston?
Through Week 14 the Houston Dynamo sit 2nd worst in CPWP.
Last year they finished 12th best in CPWP and were 5th best in CPWP when viewing just Eastern Conference teams…
How is their CPWP at home versus on the road? There CPWP is -0.4625 on the road – the worst in MLS and their CPWP at home is -0.0589; 4th worst in MLS.
A few other questions as the Houston Dynamo Sporting Director today:
- What do we do that increases our chances for winning?
- If we concede fewer Corners and fewer crosses why are we still having a higher than average Goals Against?
- What does our scouting report say?
- Who’s in the queue on the trade list to get this team better?
- Who do we have in the Academy pipeline that can help?
- When does Brad Davis come back?
- How’s the fitness level of the players?
- How’s the locker room atmosphere?
- Do we have too many average players making more than the average number of mistakes?
Obviously there are more questions than can be asked from an individual player standpoint…
But considering that almost every manager got sacked last year (see diagram below) who coached a side finishing in the bottom half of this Index, there appears to be compelling evidence that Houston needs to make some significant changes somewhere in order to get better.
Is there cause for concern?
I think so – obviously there are far more questions to ask and answers to look for but the performanc indicators for Houston, so far this year, seem compelling enough to cause concern.
Balancing the needs of the organization against the budget is always a tough call but it appears to me that individual player personnel changes are needed – where – I don’t know because I don’t track individual player statistics – the public domain data isn’t good enough.
As for the diagram above – a few additional points to make in seeing what that Index offers:
- The top five “Eastern Conference teams” in this Index all made the Playoffs.
- The top five “Western Conference teams” in this Index all made the Playoffs.
- The Coach of the Year came from the team with the best overall CPWP last year; Portland.
I’m not obtuse enough to believe that the current CPWP Index, for this season, represents the final Index. Nor do I expect that the top five for both conferences will be in the top ten of the End of Season 2014 CPWP Index.
The Intent with this Index is to ‘closely match’ the League Standings not ‘exactly match’ the League Standings. So far it’s pretty close – I’ll take that.
And since we are near the half-way point of the season I will look to pick out at least one team to review every few days (in the bottom half of this Index) to offer up answers to more of those basic questions.
I hadn’t considered a Part II (here’s Part I) to this evaluation until receiving a some great questions from one of my readers, Oliver Page.
His two-part question, yesterday, centered on this “Is there some data on passes conceded in final 3rd compared to fouls. For example I would imagine that Chivas concede many final 3rd fouls because a much higher % of the game is played there. I would be interested to see who has the worst discipline in terms of how many opposition passes it takes in order for a foul to be committed.”
In trying to help answer the first question I put together this table:
The primary sort is on which teams have had Opponent Final Third Passes the most versus the least – the middle of three data columns.
Note that Chivas, who play what many to consider is a ‘bunker style defense’, is not one of the top teams yielding large volumes of Final Third Passes by the Opponent.
Indeed, it’s actually quite interesting to see that Toronto leads MLS in this category!
What might that mean? In order to come up with a few thoughts I needed to go back to this table:
Note that while Toronto concede the most Passes by the Opponent in their Defending Final Third they also have the 7th best Goals Against in MLS!
That’s very intriguing…. Yet when returning to look at Chivas, their goals against is worst in MLS yet they are 3rd best in minimizing opponent passes in the final third! WOW…
Why is that? It’s hard to make a judgment call without having additional evidence but I offer these questions for consideration:
- Might Toronto have a better system for closing linkage to prime striking areas?
- Might Toronto simply have better defenders?
- Might Toronto simply have better defensive coordinator coaching that better understand opponent attacking schemes?
- With this more attuned defensive scheme in the works will they still have enough attacking power to carry the team into the playoffs?
So in going back to Oliver’s question… Are Chivas ceding more fouls due to higher amounts of opponent penetration?
I’d offer no. So why might they be ceding more fouls with less penetration by the opponent?
That’s a hard question to answer and it’s most likely answers to that question are better offered by others with more knowledge about the internal workings of the Chivas team.
Some additional questions I’d consider as an analyst are:
- Do they have average players who are making more mental mistakes than might be expected?
- Do they have locker room issues?
- Is the Defensive Coordinator or other Coaching staff running an appropriate defensive scheme that doesn’t fit the players the team currently has on their roster?
- Who runs the Defensive Coordinator duties for Toronto?
- What is Toronto doing in getting behind the ball that is different from my team?
- What is Chivas doing in positional play that requires a greater number of fouls even though the majority of the team are almost always behind the ball given their ‘bunker style defending’?
In considering the second part of Oliver’s question – what is the ratio of fouls conceded to opponent passes attempted?
Here’s the first table now sorted by the last column (Ratio of Fouls / Passes):
The team with the highest ratio is Chivus USA – tied for fewest points in MLS; next up is Portland with FC Dallas and Sporting KC.
Many different angles here on the why and I’m not sure I can capture that with the limited amount of information I have from the public domain – but in considering the list one thing is pretty clear – the standings in the league (as a whole) are not directly reflected here.
But… might they be early indicators in how things play out as the season finishes?
I don’t know yet; for now it’s probably more likely we are seeing the influence of one or two players for a couple of teams (think of Collin for Sporting) versus a systematic issue with a couple of other teams.
It’s next to impossible to dig deeper on this statistical analysis without knowing operational and tactical statistics for each team – but as an analyst, from a strategic viewpoint, it does provide a good indication that other things are going on within those organizations that aren’t “healthy”…
If I were a Team Owner or General Manager I would surely want to peel this issue back a bit more – especially since there are indications that outputs from this analysis ‘do’ show a relationship (in some fashion) to standings in the League Table… perhaps others have a different view?
Study game film of the Toronto FC team to watch what approaches they are taking to minimize goals conceded when facing the most penetration of any team in MLS.