Category: Major League Soccer

Gluck: #Portland @Timbersfc hire Gio Savarese

Ironic?  An epithet created by the Timbers Army, which had sincere meaning in the playoffs last year, might have even more meaning this year.

The Path Long, The Way Unknown, You are the mapmakers.

Caleb Porter is out and Gio Savarese is in.

 

In case you missed it – my thoughts on why Caleb left  Porter Pulls out of Portland

Last week I mentioned I’d give Gio Savarese a year before offering thoughts – for me it’s worthy to give him a chance to settle in before setting expectations.

But alas, my good friend Steven Lenhart (Nevets) called me ‘an old man sitting at the end of the bar’ because I wouldn’t offer an opinion.

Here’s what I’ve heard so far; Gio Savarese:

  • creates a great locker room environment,
  • has an understanding of tactics and setting his teams up to play different formations based upon his player’s availability or the opponent’s style of play,
  • has an understanding in the value of controlled possession-based soccer,
  • has an ability to read the game, as it’s being played, making tactical adjustments and/or substitutions that maximize the opportunity to earn points.

That’s a lot of strengths, perhaps in some areas where there may have been weaknesses under the leadership of Porter?

SOAP BOX

So far I’ve heard nothing negative, maybe that’s a good thing? 

If you want a strong dose of positive hyperbole take some time to read this from Dave Martinez as a contributor to MLS.

Personally I wouldn’t call coaching in MLS as being at the top of the soccer pyramid but that’s just me. 

Anyhow, stepping off my soap box – for me I’m not going to offer anything negative or positive about Gio Savarese, I can’t.

I’ve never watched a game he’s managed and I’ve never spoken with him…  so the pat answer, based on how I’ve been raised, is “let’s wait and see”.

But to scratch Nevet’s itch, I’ll offer these thoughts that (may?) balance expectations a bit more.

  • Major League Soccer is not the North American Soccer League; it’s a fully functioning league that has a strong foothold across the country.
  • Across the pitch the level of technical skills and mentality of players is higher in MLS; said differently, the amount of mistakes (both technical and mental) are fewer in MLS than NASL.
  • The length of the season is longer in MLS and there’s no mid-season break to reassess.
  • The schedule is un-balanced in MLS.
    • Good or bad, Portland plays Vancouver and Seattle three times a year – no other derby in MLS has three stronger teams playing against each other three times.
    • With the departure of Chivas USA there are no ‘soccer mules’ in MLS – yes there are some weaker teams but those weaknesses don’t really become apparent until a third of the season is completed.
  • Controlled possession based soccer is not a popular style for most teams in MLS; for the most part teams can’t afford to have those higher skilled players on the pitch.
  • MLS screams of parity, NASL doesn’t.
  • The home team, in the last four years, wins about 66% of the time.
  • We don’t know who Gio’s assistant coaches will be.
    • When you’re a head coach having assistants who speak your thoughts (maybe with different words) is critical to your success – especially when working muscle memory mentality.
    • Also critical to coaching success is having at least one assistant who thinks differently than you, as the head coach.  Surrounding yourself with people who think like you is folly – a balance in leadership is just as critical as a balance in style of play.

Those thoughts (may?) not scratch the itch but maybe my first point of evaluation on Gio will.

If the loan agreement of Lucas Melano allows it, I’d expect Lucas Melano to be at spring training this coming year.

Why?

Caleb failed to get the best out of Lucas for one reason or another and the Timbers look to have wasted a considerable sum of money on him.

Here’s what I offered about Lucas Melano some time ago.

If Gio can reverse that, and get Lucas to add value, then it’s a success for Lucas, the team, the front office, and Gio.  A win-win-win-win….  there is no downside.

If it doesn’t work you’re where you are today; a lesson learned on how not to scout and sign a player.

I know if I were in Gio Savarese’s shoes I’d certainly want to test my (and my teams’) mettle/ability to get the best out of Lucas; it’d be rude not to.

However viewed, when opening day comes we’ll see (and hear) the Timbers Army (and everyone else) give Gio Savarese a spine tingling roar of support.

Best, Chris

@CoachChrisGluck

Gluck: Porter Pulls out of Portland

Serving as a head coach in Major League Soccer is not easy – the rotating door of coaches leaving seems non-stop.  So the departure of Caleb Porter doesn’t surprise me.  I sense there may have been multiple reasons but I’ll set the stage for one – main reason – a reason you won’t see published by Major League Soccer nor the Portland Timbers.

To do that I sense it’s worthy to spend about four minutes and four seconds sharing some information on the topics below.  Perhaps this approach will help others better understand why I believe what I believe?

  • Our first encounter
  • Our relationship over the last five years
  • Major League Soccer and the Portland Timbers over the last five years
  • The current state of soccer styles in Major League Soccer
  • In closing – why I think Caleb Porter left Portland

Our first encounter:

I first met Caleb Porter at spring training, held in Arizona, February 2013.

  • I was nervous (really nervous) – here’s me – someone who’s been out of coaching for over 10 years looking to have one of the top college coaches and newly crowned lead of Portland be my sounding board for a new analytical approach I was developing for soccer.
  • I introduced myself and he gladly accepted the opportunity to chat – his first words to me, said with a smile, “you’re a soccer junky”…
  • I said, (with a smile) well maybe, but I consider myself someone who’s passionate about the game and I want to help others better understand the nuance of soccer, the statistics, how they can be misinterpreted and what greater value there may be in evaluating ‘team’ performance not individual performance – he agreed and listened.
  • At the end of our meeting, 40 minutes later, he wished me the best and said stay in touch I want to hear how things go.

My takeaway was – wow – great guy – he had chatted with me for quite some time, he was open, forthright, honest, and above all welcomed the opportunity to share what he’d experienced and how it helped him shape his style of play.

I did stay in touch; over the last five years:

  • We regularly exchanged thoughts on my progress on “Possession with Purpose” (now published globally) with him even mentioning during one press conference after a previous game “that was pure possession with purpose – Gluck would be proud of that”.
  • We met many times to share (unfiltered thoughts, documents, and video) on players, upcoming games, tactics, scouting reports, and the dynamics on style of play in Major League Soccer, sometimes we met for lunch at the Timbers training facility sometimes we just chatted after their training session.
  • Most recently he agreed to be a reference for me on my coaching resume and gave me the go-ahead to share older video data with my high school team when teaching controlled possession-based soccer; my style of play too.
  • At all times, inner discussions about the Timbers were confidential.

My observations about Major League Soccer and Portland Timbers over the last five years:

  • Some outputs of soccer played in Major League Soccer are an aberration.
  • No league, I’ve measured, in the top European countries, or at the World Cup level, sees lower levels of passing accuracy and possession rewarded with post season adulation – or entrance into a ‘champions league’ the next year.
  • In Major League soccer mediocrity in the league table is rewarded.
  • For me, it’s simply unacceptable that teams who FAIL to win more than 50% of their games are considered good; not even College Soccer does that!
  • To hear others justify that it’s (okay) is offensive to me and …maybe to others?
  • Each year Caleb Porter has had to adjust his style of coaching soccer given the construct of the league and the nature of the franchise where player acquisition is limited due to the salary cap or disturbed due to ‘expansion’.
  • In the last five years over 91% of Portland Timber player acquisitions have failed – the most recent and obvious being the $5M drop on Lucas Melano – a player with no first touch what-so-ever.
  • Yes… Portland won the MLS Trophy in 2015 – but they’ve played better soccer in years they didn’t even make the playoffs, if that makes sense???

The current state of soccer styles in Major League Soccer:

  1. Build from the back using a controlled possession-based system that sees controlled possession leading to controlled penetration, creation, and goals scored plus there are instances where the team possesses the ball simply with the intent to possess and prevent the opponent from possessing the ball. In other words a majority of the game is controlled by controlling the ball.
    • Major League Soccer teams CANNOT and DO NOT effectively execute this style of play; okay – maybe one team – New York City FC.
  2. Play somewhat more direct with variations in your line of confrontation as well as your depth of defending, recognizing that controlled possession with the intent to possess is not a tactical option but direct attacking possession with the intent to penetrate is.
    • Major League Soccer teams, show, on rare occasion (Toronto, New York, Columbus, Kansas City, and Portland) varying levels of ability in executing this style of play
  3. Cede possession with the intent to counter via direct attacking; pretty much throwing out the idea that controlled possession is needed at all.  In short ‘controlled possession’ for these teams is a string of three, four, or five passes leading to a shot taken – with the initial pass originating from anywhere on the pitch.
    • Major League Soccer teams almost always show tendencies in trying to execute ONLY this style of play.

It’s my firm belief that to be great at #3 you must first know, understand, and have the ability to execute #1 (first) and then #2 (second)…

In other words – knowing how to play soccer is knowing how to use /create time and space anywhere on the pitch.

If you only play styles #3 then #2 you only educate your players on using/creating time and space available given those short/mid-term scenarios.

Meaning you aren’t maximizing your teams’ (learning) ability to use/create ALL the potential time and space available anywhere on the pitch.

I hope that makes sense?

In Closing:

After taking into consideration my own personal knowledge of Caleb, our discussions, and  current conditions on style of play in Major League Soccer I’d offer…

Caleb left because he was frustrated with the style of soccer he had to coach instead of the style of soccer he wanted to coach.

What tipped the scales this year might have been his approach to the front office saying I want to redo the entire team organizational structure to develop and acquire players who can play a more possession-based style of soccer and the front office said no…

Hence the “fundamental difference”.

I don’t sense Caleb Porter is ready to take on the United States Men’s National Team yet.

But IF HE DOES – I’ll bet he “drives” (with a passion unmatched) United States soccer towards being a controlled possession-based team – and that, in my view, is the ONLY way this country can challenge at the highest levels of international soccer.

FACT: The best national and domestic teams “regularly” play controlled possession-based soccer building from the back….

 

I wish Caleb Porter the very best as he carves out his future in coaching at the very highest levels of our profession.

Best, Chris

 

Gluck: Who should Head Coach the #USMNT in @USSoccer?

I’m sure there’s many ways to determine what Head Coach might best lead the US Men’s National Team out of darkness…    

I’ve narrowed my scope of who might fit best by limiting the selection pool to those who currently lead a team in Major League Soccer.  This obviously includes a broad band of candidates – you need to start somewhere.

In today’s environment, world class national and domestic teams are great at “controlling the ball” AND/OR great at “controlling the opponent when they don’t have the ball”.

I’ve taken that statement and converted it into measuring four categories of possession:  

  1. Points per game a Head Coach averages where their team has equaled or exceeded 55% possession,
  2.  Points per game a Head Coach averages where their team has possession greater than or equal to 50% possession but less than 55% possession,
  3.  Points per game a Head Coach averages where their team has possession greater than or equal to 45% possession but less than 50% possession, and
  4.  Points per game a Head Coach averages where their team has less than 45% possession.

My intent is to try and quantify/qualify three basic styles of play:

  1. Possession-based with controlled possession starting from the back,
  2. A mixture of controlled possession and controlled counter/direct -attacking, or
  3. A team relying solely on “controlling the opponent when they don’t have the ball” and offering counter/direct attacking as a method of penetration.

My relationships between the four measured categories of possession and three styles of play are:

  • #1 with #1,
  • #2 & #3 with #2, and
  • # 4 with #3.

Its’ not perfect, but then again, soccer isn’t perfect either.

Note:  Prozone has identified ~ 7 styles of play – I try to keep things simple.

I’ve made a list of five Head Coaches for consideration:

  • Gregg Berhalter,
  • Oscar Pareja,
  • Caleb Porter,
  • Peter Vermes, and
  • Jesse Marsch

Why didn’t I include Jason Kreis?

He’s been relieved of coaching duties twice and failed to make the playoffs with Orlando City.  Something, somewhere isn’t working…  nothing personal.

Here’s their initial PPG by each category from 2014 to 2017 (excluding the final two games):

The cells highlighted in green show which Head Coach had the highest PPG (per year) in the four categories listed.

It’s pretty clear those five coaches having varying strengths in earning points relative to the four categories of possession.

Here’s their average PPG over the last three years in an attempt to quantify/qualify their “consistency of purpose” – a phrase usually associated with Dr. Deming:

So how do their teams perform against conference opponents?

An attempt to measure how well each coach’s team performs against a “known quantity”; similar to the US Men’s National team playing “known” CONCACAF opponents…

Note the 2017 data excludes the last two games of this season.

Finishing Touches:

Jesse Marsch shows best (“consistency of purpose”) in:

  • Earning points per game in three of four possession categories over the last three years,
  • The Total Soccer Index versus “known” opponents over the last three years,
  • Goal differential versus “known” opponents over the last three years,
  • Earning points versus “known” opponents over the last three years.

Who’s your choice?

 

Best Chris

You can follow me on twitter @CoachChrisGluck

Gluck: It’s not just @USSoccer that needs to “wipe the slate clean”

I’m not on the bandwagon of blasting US Soccer, USSF, Sunil Gulati, the Coaching Staff, or the Players anymore – that’s old news for me; especially since the rest of our soccer media has finally caught up to what I was thinking after the US Men’s team performance in World Cup 2014. 

Here’s my summary of issues back then that STILL REMAIN today:

  • They lack on field leadership.
  • They lack the ability to possess the ball with any sense of conviction.
  • They lack the ability to penetrate with any sense of continuity in possession leading to that penetration.
  • They are predictable.
  • They lack “controlled aggression”.
  • Their team passing statistics are horrible.
  • They lack a pure #9, #8, #7, and #6 in the traditional sense of soccer.
  • They lack ‘shut-down’ fullbacks.
  • They lack center-backs who can not only possess the ball, but control space in and around their own 18 yard box with pace and fortitude.
  • They have a great goalkeeper.
  • Some of the players are really-really fast, many are slow or really slow.
  • Some of the players have a great first touch, many don’t.
  • Both Head Coaches have shown an inability to use the right tactics against opponents.

So am I personally surprised by the result?

No… and I don’t know why other guys who’ve played at that level are!

Anyway, since I’ve already lambasted US Soccer and Sunil Gulati, many times over three years, my target for today is mainstream soccer media.

Yes…  in the last two days mainstream media has blitzed Sunil Gulati and US Soccer/USSF given the horrendous result against T&T.  In a way, rightly so, but in a way…. very disappointing.

Why disappointing?

It’s disappointing because there’s nothing here you shouldn’t already know if mainstream news/TV media had done their job of informing/educating our country in HOW soccer is played and what statistics should be used to quantify or qualify results.

 

Hmmm…  you sure about this Chris?

Yes… here’s why.

Throughout the course of US World Cup qualifications mainstream media has quantified and qualified good or bad performances of players and coaching decisions based on the use of “event-based” statistics.

Here’s some you may be familiar with:

Expected Goals, Expected Passes; numbers of Clearances, Tackles, Recoveries, Crosses, Missed Chances, Key Passes, Goals Scored, Shots Taken, Save Percentage, Blocked Shots; or Composite indices like the Audi Player Index or Castrol Index plus countless other ones too many or unworthy to name.

This information is well-intentioned but if you KNOW and understand HOW soccer is played NONE of these statistics have value UNLESS the author or TV pundit qualifies the data based upon how the opponent influenced those outcomes.

So… in EVERY instance (EVERY article and EVERY TV broadcast) mainstream media uses these event-based soccer statistics they facilitate ignorance of the mainstream soccer audience.

In other words, in modern terminology all that info they use is “fake news”…

But wait, there’s more… what is an article (in today’s environment) without including at least one tweet.

Last week the most popular @MLSSoccer.com writer, Matthew Doyle, tweeted about Paul Arriola, a good player who brings “energy” but world-class…. no.  My response, however harsh, is included.

 

Finishing Touches:

Matthew Doyle, from MLS Soccer, offers this quote in a recent article.

“Second is that, at the end of the video from last night, you can see me pleading for you (yes you, the one reading this) to get involved, specifically as a coach or a referee.”

I am involved.  I am a coach, I have coaching qualifications both here and from the United Kingdom.

I’m also a soccer analyst who’s been published in London and my statistical analysis has been presented at both the 2014 and 2017 World Conference on Science and Soccer.

So I have standing in what I offer as criticism to you and mainstream soccer media.

Finishing Touches:

I won’t prejudge MLS but I will offer some suggestions for MLSSoccer.com given my standing:

  • Stop the incessant use of individually tracked event-based statistics without qualifying what they mean relative to how the opponent played…
  • Stop advocating the Audi Player Index…
  • Stop advocating Expected Goals…
  • Stop advocating an MLS Best XI that excludes fullbacks or offers up a 3-4-3 when roughly 86% of teams in Major League Soccer play with four defenders, not three…
  • Stop advocating a Major League All Star starting squad that doesn’t account for ‘all’ the primary positions on the pitch, that means fullbacks, center-backs, wingers, central attacking and defending midfielders, forwards, and out-and-out strikers.
  • Stop advocating that a throw-back player of the 1990’s actually fits into a modernized 2022 US Men’s National Team.
  • Find writers/analyst who KNOW HOW soccer is played – not just guys who write articles that are offered simply as “click bait”!
  • Enforce that all academies (and all affiliated soccer clubs to those academies and the parent organization) are no longer “pay-to-play” this includes health insurance and travel.

Bottom line at the bottom:

Mainstream media organizations MUST take responsibility and retrain or sack writers/analysts and stop sponsor-ships with people/organizations that advocate/use “statistical disinformation” (fake news).

A reminder of where the US Men’s National Team finished in the Total Soccer Index for World Cup 2014 and why I’m not surprised they didn’t qualify for WC 2018.

By the way; just because I didn’t write an article about sacking Sunil Gulati, or other things like “pay to play” doesn’t mean I disagree with great articles like this one by Neil Blackmon.

I don’t see a guy like Neil being “mainstream soccer media”…

Best, Chris

You can follow me on twitter @CoachChrisGluck

 

Gluck: Heaps of News in Major League Soccer This Week

Lots going on to share with you as Major League Soccer gets set for this weekend.  In particular order:

  • Major League Soccer Total Soccer Index (TSI)
    • Eastern Conference
    • Western Conference
  • Jay Heaps gets the heave-ho from New England; why?
  • Quality in MLS – has it got better since 2014?
    • If so, where?
  • Predictions for this weekend.
  • Closing thoughts on Expected Goals

As a reminder – I called out Expected Goals and Expected Passes this week.  Positive response from my European readers has been tremendous; so far my readers in the United States have remained quiet.

In case you missed it the explanation about what the Total Soccer Index is, is here.

Major League Soccer TSI:

This is how the league looks in a single table format; of course it’s pear-shaped from the start because the league doesn’t play a balanced schedule for everyone.

  • The hammer identifies teams who have sacked their Head Coaches this year; are Jim Curtin, Ben Oslen, and/or Jason Kreis on the block too?
  • The correlation of TSI to points earned is .82 this year; that’s an increase from the last two years.
  • Offering, in my view, parity is decreasing.
  • More to follow when we look at quality across MLS a bit later…

Eastern Conference:

The Eastern Conference has been the more predictable conference all year even though MLS has an unbalanced schedule.

  • Teams that usually possess the ball more, penetrate more, while showing greater patience in shot creation, end up with more goals scored.
  • This pattern, across all the categories in Possession with Purpose, more closely matches European League performances measured in the past.
  • Is this an indicator parts of Major League Soccer are growing closer to European Soccer in terms of tactics and how those general tactics drive similar results?
  • Maybe…
  • More to follow when looking at quality across the entire league.

Who finishes as Eastern Conference Champion?   Toronto.

Western Conference:

I’m not sure anything is settled in the wild-wild west.

  • We’ve seen musical chairs in almost every position of their conference table.
  • About the only thing remaining constant is the poor play of Colorado Rapids, Minnesota United, and LA Galaxy.
  • The greatest surprise may be the demise of FC Dallas, we’ve seen them swoon in late season before, does it happen again this year?
  • If any one team has been consistent this year it’s Sporting KC – but that’s the case every year.
  • With US Men’s National Team looking for a new Head Coach, after WC 2018, has Peter Vermes put himself in pole position over someone like Oscar Pareja?

Who finishes as Western Conference Champion?  Sporting KC

Who wins the MLS League Championship?  I have no idea.

Jay Heaps gets the heave-ho by New England, why?

Observations:

  • Their Attack:
    • 2nd worst percentage in overall possession across MLS
    • Mid-table in passing accuracy percentage
    • 3rd highest percentage in overall penetration of final third
    • 7th lowest percentage in shot creation
    • 5th highest percentage in shot precision
    • 8th lowest percentage in shot finishing
  • Opponents Have:
    • 2nd highest percentage of possession vs NER
    • Highest percentage of Passing Accuracy in MLS vs NER
    • Mid-table percentage in penetration vs NER
    • Lowest percentage of shot creation in MLS vs NER
    • Eighth highest percentage in shot precision vs NER
    • Fourth highest percentage in shot finishing vs NER

Conclusions:

  • Their Attack:
    • The team does not lack in attack.
    • Shot creation is at a lower level relative to a higher level of penetration; usually a positive sign of patience in attack.
    • That, coupled with being eighth highest in shot precision means when they create space there are putting shots on goal.
    • What (may?) lack in attack is finishing…. but when you look at the stable of players and see Kamara on 11 goals, Nguyen on nine, and Agudelo on eight they are pretty good/versatile in attack.
  • Their Defense:
    • Lacks by a considerable margin compared to their opponents.
    • Opponent’s are averaging over 80% passing accuracy; partly due to Revolution tactics of ceding space outside the final third in order to facilitate a better counter-attack.
    • What is striking is their opponents are also eighth best in putting shots on goal and fourth best in finishing.
    • That indicates Revolution opponents are gaining solid possession time BOTH INSIDE and OUTSIDE their defending final third.
  • Is it the wrong players on the pitch?
  • Is it the wrong defensive tactics on the pitch?

I’d say it’s both.

Quality in Major League Soccer:

It appears that quality has been roughly the same, year in and year out since 2014.

  • But that’s deceptive.  From 2014 through to 2017
    • The difference between average passing accuracy for the best and worst has increased from 7.17% to 9.50%
    • The difference between average penetration percentages for the best and worst has increased from 12.67% to 16.05%
    • The difference between average creation percentages for the best and worst has increased from 6.67% to 11.48%
    • The difference between average precision percentages for the best and worst has increased from 9.31% to 12.87%
    • The difference between average finishing percentages for the best and worst has increased from 21.73% to 23.42%
  • The gap between better teams and worse teams has widened.
  • Another indicator parity has decreased, not increased.

Given the trends offered through PWP analysis it appears parity is on the decline in MLS.

When the season ends poor management will be rewarded with more money instead of being relegated; entitlement is alive and strong in Major League Soccer.

Predictions for this weekend:

As with most weeks, the home team is more likely to earn points.

  • So far this year the home teams have earned 589 points versus 284 for away teams.
  • That’s a pretty solid 2 to 1 margin in favor of the home team.
  • Last year home teams earned 612 points compared to 300 points for away teams.
  • In 2015 it was 624 points for home teams and 324 points for away teams.
  • In 2014 it was 557 points for home teams and 323 points for away teams.
  • Conclusion – even without using Expected Goals it’s pretty clear a novice in soccer can guess who will earn points in MLS games.

By the way, if using the TSI to predict who would have won the U.S. Open Cup the numbers show Sporting KC with an average TSI of .41 (at home) while the New York Red Bulls were .00 (away from home).

The final result was 2-1 Sporting KC.  In hind sight the TSI predictor was accurate in predicting the U.S. Open Cup winner.

In closing:

  • Do you really need to know what Expected Goals are to predict which teams in Major League Soccer will earn points week to week?  No….
  • If you bet the home team you’ll be right roughly 66% of the time.
    • Just another reason to debunk the value of expected goals.
    • Oh… I’m hearing expected goals statistics are being used to predict results for the next year, using previous years data.
    • And that those correlations are pretty solid from year to year.
    • Well, they will be.
    • You’re only using one event-based statistic to predict results in the next year and that number is notoriously low for every team; for room for error is minimal.
    • I’m willing to bet a teams’ Expected Goals from two, three, or even four years ago will also have a pretty high correlation to the current year too…
    • Why?
    • Because only one variable is being measured and the variation in that variable is low – very low.
    • What makes that approach worse is it violates common sense.
    • Teams change players and Head Coaches from year to year and while they may score the same amount of goals, year in and year out, their overall results may be different because they got better defenders or improved their defensive tactics.
  • Parity in Major League Soccer has waned this year and it’s likely to get worse next year as LA adds another team.

Best, Chris

@CoachChrisGluck 

Gluck: Tea Leaves on Timbers Traveling to Toronto

Is this a likely pre-cursor to the MLS Championship Game?

I’m not sure, but given the wild west, and more predictable east, it isn’t beyond reason to think so.  In preparing my information for your consideration here’s a link to my Total Soccer Index: 

The Science (Attacking): 

Toronto at home compared with Portland on the road.

The part of Possession with Purpose that stands out first is ‘penetration’.

  • Out of an equal amount of possession and passing accuracy for both teams Toronto shows a greater (much greater) edge in penetration; the difference is striking; almost 20% more penetration per total possession than Portland.
  • That considerable advantage in increased penetration leads to a 10% increase in the precision (putting shots on goal) followed by another 10% increase in finishing.
  • Twenty six goals scored at home for Toronto vs seventeen goals scored on the road for Portland.  Not only is Toronto’s quality better; their quantity is too…

The Art:

It is likely Toronto will penetrate more often and offer up more shots than Portland – meaning a reasonable game plan for Portland will be to cede some space up top (maybe after the first 15 minutes) and then look to clog the middle and defensive third of the pitch.. relying solely on the counter-attack to get a goal, or two…

The Science (Defending):

Like the attacking side of the equation; the part of Possession with Purpose that stands out first on how opponents attack against these two teams is penetration.

  • Out of equal amounts of possession and passing accuracy by opponents Portland shows opponents have greater amounts of penetration.
  • Opponents of Portland see a 10% increase in precision (shots on goal) and a 20% increase in finishing (goals scored against) than Toronto opponents.
  • All told opponents have scored 23 goals against Portland, versus just seven for Toronto.
  • Portland opponents see an increase in quality as well as quantity; matching exactly the characteristics of how Toronto attacks at home!

The Art:

It would appear penetration is the key for both teams… therefore, trying to regain possession of the ball in the attacking and middle third will be crucial in order to disable a quick counter-attack when the ball is lost.

As much as it pains me to offer this – Bradley is known for coughing up the ball in the middle third of the pitch – I’d expect both David Guzman or Diego Chara to pressure Bradley whenever he has the ball.

Bottom line:  If Portland scores (at all) they will REALLY need to protect that lead and that includes protecting the wings from overload by Toronto.

Total Soccer Index:  Final Thoughts

If you’re a betting person – it’s likely Toronto win by at least one goal – if not two… but as we’ve seen this year “parity” rules in this league.

And even though the eastern conference seems to show greater strength in possession with purpose competitive conditions of the wild west may better suit Portland in a game like this.

Questions:  It’s the fantastic four of both teams that will make the difference in the run of play.

  • How well will Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore, Victor Vazquez, and Michael Bradley work against a healthy Timbers defense?
  • Can Toronto’s defense control the attacking nous of Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe, and Sebastian Blanco along with the physically brutal aspect Fenando Adi brings as a true #9?

Set pieces win games…

The magic of one player, with one touch, that leads to one strike, and one brilliant goal awaits… as Diego Valeri, like set pieces, wins games too…

Best, Chris

You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckpwp

Re-tweets are not rude… 🙂

Gluck: Getting Hot in Portland? Yes… Only…

This time it’s about the weather; record temperatures in Portland this week are forcing the Timbers vs Galaxy match to kick-off at 11 AM ‘left coast of America time’ and it should be a doozy…

Here’s my take using my new publication format, for your consideration.

Pre-Match Report Portland Timbers vs LA Galaxy

Best, Chris

@chrisgluckpwp

Gluck: Updated Possession with Purpose and the New Total Soccer Index

Much has transpired in the world of soccer statistics over the past four years since I first published: Possession with Purpose – An Introduction and some Explanations.

CLICK this link for my NEW simplified power point presentation update of Possession with Purpose the Total Soccer Index

  • The .pdf version should make it easier to print and use as reference material.

Within you’ll find:

  • Definition of TSI
  • Purpose of TSI
  • Premise of TSI
  • Parts of TSI
  • Leagues / competitions analyzed
  • Application of TSI and its parts
  • The data for leagues / competitions analyzed
  • Observations & conclusions by league / competition as well as reviewing TSI across leagues / competitions

My thanks to all for your support and kind words throughout the years.

In Summary:

  • The sum of the parts has greater correlation to points earned than the parts independent of each other.
  • Player A, from Team A, within any given league, has a different correlation to points (performance/outcome) than Player B, Team B, Player C Team C, etc in that same league.  In other words outcomes of individual player statistical analyses are NOT EQUAL from team to team and league to league.
      • Said differently, clearances or crosses (used as a measurement in fantasy soccer) for one player, on one team, DO NOT have the same weight/value of clearances or crosses for a different player on a different team.
      • Same can be said for passes or shots taken, etc.
      • Therefore, Calculations such as Expected Goals are not an apples to apples comparison between teams within the same league.  Yes, it’s a predictive tool, but flawed/
  • The lower the overall correlation of the Total Soccer Index to points earned the greater the parity within the league or competition; this also intuits those are less predictable.

Best, Chris

@ChrisGluck1

Gluck: Portland Timbers – Out of the Woods?

If you’re part of the Portland Timbers supporter-base or football organization this (should?) be a picture out your rearview mirror – not a vision on what’s ahead.

As noted by Porter in his latest post-game presser – there’s been some bullets flying… part of them their own making…

 

Getting Hot in Portland

For me, even in defeat against Real Salt Lake, the most positive takeaway has been the open discussion about organizational failure – not individual player failure – when results didn’t go well.  You win as a team – you lose as a team; professional or not…

 

Unlike some, I don’t think you ever forget that game against Real Salt Lake; you remember it, embrace it, and never-ever dismiss what it felt like to be so humiliated by that horrible team performance.

 

The next phase – let’s call it the “final attacking third” (math?) sees the Timbers with six games at home and six on the road.  The most important game is the next game.

 

Houston:  A team who’s been unbeaten at home this year.

So what.

As shown last weekend – when counted out – the Timbers aren’t out…

Any team, in any position in the league table, can beat any other team in this league… that may be disappointing to those who like to bet on a sure-thing but for those who thrive on second-chance football (another phrase for parity?) it’s great.

Porter has some guys returning – to include David Guzman, Alvas Powell, Darren Mattocks and Darlington Nagbe.  As for Farfan, Vytas, and Ridgewell I don’t know…

I’d like to see Darlington Nagbe get a rest after the Gold Cup final but I’m not seeing that happen; I’d offer there’s too much at stake to see him begin the game on the bench.

So for the first time (in how long Mike Donovan?) we’re likely to see Adi, along with Blanco, Valeri, and Nagbe as the front four… or as I like to think of it the top half of a Christmas tree…

Adi up top with Valeri and Blanco roaming left, right, and center, while Nagbe provides the (holding) glue between and amongst them and whichever fullback or central midfielder decides to penetrate forward.

I’d expect Porter to be very excited to have these four starting in attack.

But we know there’s many views about football – here’s some thoughts provided by members of the Timbers Army Northern Alliance:

John Brewer:

I’d love to see us make a formation shift to play Adi and Ebobisse  up top. Ebobisse worked for every ball, fought hard and he showed the power and vision that a high draft pick like himself is expected to exhibit. His speed and vision with, Adi’s size and power, is a tough combo to handle. The work ethic he displays is also infectious. 

Matt DeVore:

I’ll need to see a couple more games with the effort we put out Sunday to believe we can make a run this season. Was good to see a makeshift lineup pull one out and play with some heart, which we’ve been missing.  You want consistency but maybe shaking it up and letting some of the younger players get some minutes will light a fire under the veterans.

Haven’t looked sharp for a while and getting to that point where I was a couple seasons ago when I was just waiting for the season to play out so I could start fresh and be excited again for the next year. Funny thing happened though, went on a roll late and won the cup.

Colin Fenn:

 

No matter what we do, our back line is going to be relatively weak. Embrace it and invest in extra attack. You can’t take advantage of our weak back line if you’re scrambling to stop our attack for 90 minutes.

Wesley Halverson:

I really hope Caleb makes the whole squad watch the Vancouver game film. We had nowhere near our First XI, but the guys who were there fought hard and made Vancouver earn everything.

It wasn’t the prettiest game we’ve played and the set piece marking was pretty bad, but I can definitely get behind a team that plays with that much passion and heart.

In closing:

Many worthy thoughts…

I can see Ebobisse being a solid option in attack (off the bench), more-so than Darren Mattocks?

I also like the added grist we’ve seen from Dairon Asprilla; especially on the defending side of the wing.

Others (may?) disagree but it seems Ben Zemanski is more settled this year – I don’t see the uncontrolled wandering/tackling we’ve often seen in the past; his improved play is not misconstrued.

The bench doesn’t look so bad now.

And with Ridgewell, Vytas, and Farfan due to return soon places on the bench will be very hard to come by.  I didn’t sense that earlier this season.

Bottom line at the bottom.

You can’t continue to expect to win if you cede goals; when Timbers have the lead, especially on the road, I’d offer more purposeful possession is needed.

You don’t need to penetrate, with the intent to score a goal, every single time you have the ball; sustaining possession, with patient and purposeful penetration, adds great value.

Especially since it means the opponent doesn’t have the ball – if they don’t have the ball they can’t score goals.

Best Chris

You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckpwp

Retweets always welcomed…

Gluck: Getting Hot in Portland?

Normally a headline like this could be attributed to the beginning of summer and the secret heat wave we experience in Portland, or… it could be attributed to Portland Timbers heating up for a mid-to-late season run like they did in 2015.

But no, today it’s about Caleb Porter and whether or not he’s in the hot seat.

Some might offer this isn’t a worthy discussion – I disagree.

Last year – a year where the Timbers gave away a record 53 goals against – is looking to be matched, if not eclipsed this year (28 goals against in 18 games).  

Previous articles showing trends of dysfunctional defending in 2016 and 2017

As such, I felt it worthy to poll supporters in one of the many Timbers Army Facebook sites.  I got a good variety of responses to this:

Reasonable question or not?  Is Caleb Porter on the hot seat?  What are your thoughts as I get ready to put pen to paper on this question.

Responses varied in scope to include:

  • I love Caleb Porter and have defended him through the years says Wesley Halverson, but I think his seat is warm (not hot).  I honestly think if we miss the playoffs he’s gone because that would be 2 playoff appearances in 5 years.  In a league where over half the teams make the playoffs, that’s not good enough.
  • Matt Devore added; I would agree it’s warm but getting warmer with each game. ….It’s a long season so there will be ups and downs but if you can’t be motivated at home against your biggest rival there are issues.
  • Shelli Whitmarsh added, I think, regardless of specifics with Porter, sometimes a team needs a new coach with a fresh set of eyes and a willingness to challenge the status quo & shake things up.
  • I’m generally loathe to start calling for a coaches job just because things aren’t going the greatest on the field says Steven Seibos.  To me, the question is “Has Porter lost the team?”
  • Hot seat, yes says Fernando Xavier, but why can’t our crack scouting team find valid CB’s in the off-season.  Our drafts are busts, T2 is a mess.  Is it CP or GW and MP micromanaging?

These only scratch the surface of discussion but I sense it’s of import to recognize there is no vitriol here; these are reasonable thoughts/questions from a well-educated fan-base.

My thoughts.

First and foremost I always like to see what the data offers (science) and then leverage it, where appropriate, as I blend in my own personal experiences (art).

The science: 

Below are four diagrams highlighting my Possession with Purpose analytical approach published last year in England.  A general summary is provided for each year.

Legend:

X Axis = Points Earned   ///    Y Axis = Games Played

Blue Dotted Line = Trend-line of Points/Game    ///    Red Dotted Line = Trend-line of PWP/Game

What’s this mean for 2017?

When you start out the season with three straight wins, and follow with a swoon of 2-6-3 in the last 11, you’re likely to see a drastic change in these curves.

What’s heartening (maybe) is an uptick in productivity starting after week 10 (dotted red line) when they lost 3-nil to San Jose.

Statistics, not provided, also show quality in attacking has helped keep Portland Timbers from free-falling this year.  Their pace looks to match goals scored totals of 61 in 2014 but…

They are also on pace to match their goals against of 53 in 2016.

In both years they failed to make the playoffs.

Correlation: (relationship of the data to the league table)

Strong:  Greater than .75 all four years.  As points earned move up or down so to does the PWP index.

In other words the index is a good indicator/predictor and could be used to forecast future point totals.

PWP as a Prediction Model in MLS and elsewhere: my most recent topic of discussion presented at the World Conference on Science & Soccer 2017

As noted many times after putting together my analysis – you need to be good on both sides of the pitch in order to have success in soccer.

Takeaway on the science – if things continue trends lead me to believe Portland Timbers will not make the playoffs in 2017.

The Art:

Extenuating circumstances?  

  • Portland lost proposed starting right center-back, Gbenga Arokoyo, before the season started.
  • Liam Ridgewell has been out for long stretches.
  • Center-back (type) players added (Roy Miller, Lawrence Olum, and Amobi Okugo); none of which I’d classify as a prototypical center-back have provided inconsistent (but) spirited support.
  • Larrys Mabiala, a true center-back, has arrived and is likely to see playing time mid-to-late July; too late?
  • Alvas Powell and Zarek Valentin have played musical chairs on the right; Powell far more inconsistent that Valentin; weighing the balance of ‘nous’ versus ‘speed’ is hard.
  • Jake Gleeson is a shot stopper and Jeff Attinella isn’t (for the most part).
    • Attinella is good in distribution and Gleeson isn’t.
    • Attinella is probably a better sweeper-keeper – like Adam Kwarasey.
    • Gleeson reminds me of Donovan Ricketts.
    • Portland Timbers won the league with a sweeper-keeper; not shot-stopper.
  • David Guzman has been added as a partner to Diego Chara; that partnership seems to show well.
    • Though I would offer with two destroyers on the pitch it now means opponents are twice as likely to earn a foul/free kick in the Timbers defending third than previous years.
  • Sebastian Blanco has replaced the Much Maligned Lucas Melano and Dairon Asprilla has returned.
    • Dairon adds value in attacking and some in defending.
    • Sebastian adds value in attacking and some in defending.
    • I’d offer both are the polar opposite of Rodney Wallace, who added value in defending and some in attacking.
    • Portland Timbers won the league with some added value in attack and added value in defending
  • Substitutions or lack thereof.
    • With injuries and suspensions some younger players have been on the bench this year.
    • None have been called on with any frequency and in the last three games when some young, fresh, and energetic players may have been warranted we’ve seen old faces offering nothing new.
    • Portland Timber supporters have grown (I think begrudgingly) to expect Ex-Akron Zips players getting substitution minutes over others.

Regardless of who plays where, and when, the Head Coach and supporting staff ARE responsible for results.

If players in the squad aren’t capable of executing the existing defensive scheme, on-pitch, then the coaching staff has failed to create the right platform to minimize risk given those same players technical skills.

A motto most successful leaders live by is ‘criticize in private – praise in public’.  I’d offer that’s a pretty good one to live by.

In my limited experience I see no value – absolutely no value – in criticizing player performance in public.  Suck it up during the press conference and work it out privately.

Defenders are doing a very good job of supporting the team in attack so at least half of their game is technically sound.

But I’d offer the reverse of that is NOT true.

Midfielders (especially on the wings) are not doing a very good job in supporting the defenders when without the ball.

This lapse in supporting the fullbacks, who are asked to participate in the attack, creates a knock-on effect.

As central midfielders get pulled wide to support the wings, the center, above the back-four is getting exposed.

If Portland Timbers, when attacking, expect that philosophy to gain time and space in the middle, it’s reasonable, if not down right rude, not to expect the opponent to do the same thing.

Conclusion:   Since lack of consistency in defending has been an issue since the start of 2016 I’d submit Caleb Porter is on the hot seat; others may think differently.

Closing thoughts:  

In business it’s rude to walk into your boss’s office and present them with a real or perceived problem without providing a proposed solution.

Proposed Solution:  The 4-2-3-1 isn’t working; convert to a more conservative 4-3-2-1 or a 3-5-2.

I’ll disregard the 3-5-2, for now, Portland Timbers don’t have much in the way of center-backs.

A basic description of the 4-3-2-1:

  • If your a team that cedes possession and strives to execute the counter-attack, with attacking fullbacks, this is a really good formation to use.  Key positions include:
    • Fullbacks who are asked/expected to participate in attack.
    • Holding Central Midfielder:  Ball winner who doesn’t foul often.  Offers great distribution and great ball control.  The fulcrum for ball movement.
    • Outside Central Midfielders:  Box-to-box players with great (strong) ball winning skills across the width of the pitch, good ball control and distribution skills.
    • Attacking Midfielders:   Goal scorers with sublime ball control and creativity across the width of the pitch; slightly less immediate defensive response needs but must be able to work back and support the wings if the opponent sustains possession.
    • Lone Striker:  Play with his back to goal, great striking instincts, and a hard worker in moving when without the ball.

Players who I think best fill those roles are:  Fullbacks = Zarek Valentin & Vytas; HCM = Darlington Nagbe; OCMs = Diego Chara and David Guzman, ACMs = Diego Valeir and Sebastian Blanco, Striker = Fenando Adi

Why Darlington Nagbe as the Holding Central Midfielder?

  1. He’s the best ball control player on the pitch – put him in the center where he’s likely to get the most touches.
  2. It saves his legs since he won’t be asked to play box-to-box anymore; that job will fall to Diego Chara and David Guzman, players who have the engines to do that.
  3. Prohibits him from disappearing during the game, and
  4. Since Darlington doesn’t (or won’t) “inflict” his will/personality on the pitch (in attack) and he doesn’t often take an ego-type penetrating run into the 18 yard box it leaves room for other players like Sebastian Blanco and Diego Valeri to do that more often.

Those are some of my reasons why I think Portland Timbers should change their formation in order to mitigate defending weaknesses across the pitch.

Oddly enough, this formation also supports mitigating Nagbe’s weaknesses while also maximizing his strengths.

I call that a win-win-win as this change should get Portland Timbers more wins.

What are your thoughts?

NOTE:  The latest breaking news indicates Diego Chara is out for 4 weeks, or so, with hamstring issues, Amobi Okugo out for 4 months, or so, with strained MCL, and Darlington Nagbe likely to miss at least one game with re-strained hamstring.

Two views:

  1. Not good as the injuries pile up as well as the goals against – teams in this league will have no pity for Portland Timbers.
  2. If ever a time is needed to circle the ’emotional wagon’ it’s now…  these injuries should actually force Caleb Porter to dig into his bench – the silver lining – as painful as it may be – could be these mid-season injuries see players who haven’t been called on, in the past, to get their chance to succeed.  Even if they don’t see immediate success those minutes will be valuable to them for the future.

Best, Chris

@Chrisgluckpwp

Possession with Purpose:  PWP is a composite Index of both teams possession percentages, passing accuracy, penetration percentages, shot creation percentages, accuracy of putting those shots on goal, and goals scored – a bell curve of major indicators in the game of soccer.