Category: MLS Coaches

MLS Coaches – Leveraging Possession with Purpose to Analyze Coaching Performance

I promised this year, at various times, to offer some thoughts about how Possession with Purpose can be used to support analysis on how well Head Coaches might be performing compared to others.

As a reminder from last year; five of the bottom six teams in my PWP Composite Index had coaching changes, Columbus, Chicago, San Jose, Toronto, Chivas USA, and then after an early exit from the Playoffs; Montreal.  Other teams making changes included Vancouver, Colorado and FC Dallas and the depature of Kreis for NYCFC. All told, a total of 10 teams made changes in Head Coaches for one reason or another.

Will this year have similar results, and if so, who?  I don’t claim to prognosticate coaching changes and the firing of Head Coaches, but changes happen, and last year’s information, relative to the bottom six teams in my Composite PWP Index, is pretty compelling at first glance.

So after reading an article offered up by Jason Davis at ESPNFC “Three MLS coaches on the hot seat,” plus releasing my article earlier this week on Crosses offered in MLS, I figured the timing was pretty good for my first installment.

Here’s some of my initial information for consideration on “system of attack”:

  1. For home games Frank Klopas, Mark Watson and Frank Yallop-led teams are the top three in MLS that offer up more crosses per pass attempted in the final third.
  2. For away games Klopas, Watson, Yallop and Wilmer Cabrera-led teams are the top four teams in MLS that offer up more crosses per pass attempted in the final third.
  3. The relationship of taking points, at home, in the MLS is (-.70) for teams that cross the ball more frequently than others. In other words, the teams who cross the ball the most are more likely to lose points (at home) than teams that don’t.
  4. The same relationship of taking points in away games holds as well (less at -.37). but still the same logic – the more crosses a team offers in away games the more likely they are to drop points.
  5. Bottom line is these four teams are less likely to win at home or on the road given their current system of attack in the Final Third.

In other words, these teams led by these head coaches use a system of attack that simply doesn’t get positive results on a regular basis in MLS; or… these teams, led by these head coaches and general managers don’t have the right players to execute that system of attack in MLS.

So how does Sporting KC do it? They are a team that offers up the 7th-most crosses at home and the 5th most crosses on the road, yet they are winning using that system of attack.

Why? I think it’s because their GM and head coach, collectively, are getting the right players to play to that system of attack.

So how about overall Team Attacking and Defending performance  (Team Positions in my Composite PWP Index) after nine weeks in: (1) Possession, (2) Passing Accuracy, (3) Penetration into the Final Third, (4) Creating and Taking Shots, (5) Putting Shots on Goal, and (6) Scoring Goals?

After Week nine, four of the five worst performing teams in MLS, in these categories are:

  • Chivas USA (19th out of 19),
  • Montreal Impact (18th out of 19),
  • Chicago Fire (17th out of 19), and
  • San Jose Earthquakes (15th out of 19).

In case you missed it in an earlier article on Expected Wins 2 – the correlation of those data points as a whole is .99 (R-squared); the closer to “1” the better and stronger the relationship.

In other words that means that the relationship of those data points is pretty much rock solid, and that it’s a worthy indicator (outside of points in the league table) for objectively evaluating team (attacking and defending) performance.

So while Jason Davis indicates John Hackworth and Caleb Porter as being potential candidates for hot seat discussions, actual evidence available indicates those names don’t belong there. Indeed, there are other teams performing, as a whole, much worse than Philadelphia or Portland.

Three teams performing worse at this time include Chivas USA, Houston and Toronto, while Vancouver is behind the power curve compared to Philadelphia and slightly ahead of Portland.  By the way, this is not to say John Hackworth might not belong in a list a bit later this year – but for now I think it is highly speculative to even put in print that he’s a potential hot seat candidate.

And with respect to Caleb Porter – it does seem, at times, that writers outside of the Portland area speculate and use the Timbers large supporter base to artificially increase readership in some of their articles… just saying. As a writer covering the Timbers here in Portland, reading the idea that Caleb Porter is on some sort of hot seat is (softly voiced) bollocks. But that’s just me…

In closing:

Given the evidence offered, does it seem reasonable that those four Head Coaches and their associated GM’s are worthy of a “Hot Seat” distinction? I think so…

Winning styles come in all shapes and sizes – the critical piece is having the right players to support that effort, and the time to install the system. Klopas, Cabrera, Yallop and Watson all know more about football than I do.

And it’s not my place, nor is it the place of any soccer writer (in my opinion) to pass judgment on whether or not someone should get fired or hired.

But… objective evidence indicates that those four teams, compared to others, lack an effective attacking system of play, lack strong overall team performance in attacking and defending while also lacking the most important measuring stick – points in the league table.

I’m sure this is not new, nor rocket science, to those head coaches, general managers, or owners… but… (perhaps?) it is helpful to others.

Best, Chris

You can find Chris on twitter @ChrisGluckPWP

@MLS Total Soccer Index Power Rankings and More

The all star game happens this week so what better time to review where teams compare in the Total Soccer Index.

After every team had played 17 games; (halfway through the season).

Top team with 17 games in, points wise, was not Atlanta it was FC Dallas; Red Bulls of New York showed most consistency in quality across the pitch.

  • With Jesse Marsch departing it will be interesting to see if Red Bulls can continue that run of quality – if they do they could be a great bet to win it all if the pundits stick with Atlanta given their edge in points earned.
  • I also feel vindicated, as a pundit, as I recognized Jesse Marsch as the best ‘domestic’ MLS Head Coach option for the US Men’s National Team last year; read it here:.
  • Of additional interest; my second choice to coach the US Men’s National Team would be Oscar Pareja… not Gregg Berhalter.

Oscar Pareja, like Jesse Marsch, shows greater consistency of purpose in earning points when his team plays with OR without the ball.

Worst were Orlando, Colorado, and Montreal…  more to follow on just how bad Orlando and Colorado are; even compared to Chivas USA!

Here’s how the teams stack up (in one big conference) for total games played.   The Eastern Conference rules the roost.

Best and worst playing at home; the Eastern Conference rules the roost:

Best and worst playing away from home; only LA Galaxy,, of the Western Conference, squeeze into the top 3:

The elite teams at home are pretty much the elite teams on the road; some of the worst teams on the road are also in the bottom third at home.

When you’re good, you’re good, when you’re bad you’re bad.

In closing:

I don’t live in Orlando and I don’t follow their team, but it seems to me there’s some significant issues with that club at ALL levels.

  • In any other league in any other country they’d be relegated.
  • Instead they’ll get extra money to make them ‘appear’ to be more competitive.
  • When you’ve got a bad front office and ownership group you’ll consistently have a bad team.

To give you an idea what I mean; here’s the Total Soccer Index for every team that’s played in MLS since 2014 (all games included in this analysis). 

Only one team (not Chivas USA) has shown worse overall (combined) team performance (2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and now 2018) than Orlando…. San Jose!

As much as folks might blast Orlando City ownership there should be equal, if not more, attention sent the way of Colorado and San Jose, as well as Chicago (maybe?).

  • Relegation would have seen these teams probably sink to division 3 if US Soccer ran a proper organization.
  • Ironic that Chivas USA has actually shown better in team performance than Montreal, Chicago, Colorado, Orlando, and San Jose…
  • When is the last time you heard soccer pundits calling out those organizations like they did Chivas USA?
  • If ever an organization needed to hire a forward-thinking, team-performance statistical analyst it’s Orlando, San Jose, Colorado, or Chicago.  Give me a call. 🙂

While Atlanta have shown well their first two season, the two most consistent teams (across 5 years’ measurement) are Red Bulls and FC Dallas.

  • Just another piece of team performance data for US Soccer to analyze that confirms both Jesse Marsch and Oscar Pareja are far more consistent in having their teams ‘earn points’, while also showing consistent quality across the entire pitch, than Gregg Berhalter.
  • Oooh, that’s likely to be a snarky comment for some and a front loaded criticism of US Soccer if they decide to hire Gregg.  Note this isn’t me saying he’s not a good coach – he is – but is he a better selection than Pareja or some other guy who coaches domestic soccer in Europe?

Best, Chris

What’s Different About #Portland @Timbersfc this Year?

Caleb Porter left Portland Timbers at the end of 2017.  There were many rumors as to why that happened; I put (some) of my thoughts in writing here:  Porter Pulls out of Portland

I didn’t include everything and still won’t; what happens behind closed-doors should stay behind closed doors.

But here’s what I offered almost half-way through the season (last year) that led me to believe his departure would happen soon:  Getting Hot in Portland

During the off-season Merritt Paulson and Gavin Wilkinson interviewed some folks and selected Giovanni Savarese.

Many good articles and discussion sharing positive thoughts about Giovanni Savarese – none have been inaccurate so far and some, in my opinion, don’t go far enough in singing his praises.

In my five years of following/researching Portland Timbers soccer no head coach has shown a greater positive (team building) environment as well as a greater understanding of the tactical nous needed to earn points, consistently, in this league.

I would go so far as to say he’d be my first (domestic) choice to head coach the United States Men’s National Team now that Jesse Marsch has departed for Europe.

This is simply my way of offering up how good of a coach I think Giovanni Savarese is; others may disagree for one reason or another.

 

Anyhow, we’ve seen how the Timbers perform this year – most would categorize the Timbers as a top counter-attacking team and I’d agree.

What makes this team so special in counter-attacking is how well they ‘pack’ their defending final third while also having attackers with a great first touch.

Here’s some team performance statistics that may help tell this story a bit better.  The Timbers have:

  • Averaged less possession this year than in any other year from 2014.
  • Averaged the 2nd highest percentage of passing accuracy this year since 2014.
  • Averaged the 2nd highest percentage of penetration this year since 2014.

In other words they have less of the ball – but when they have less they do more with it.

Opponents have had:

  • Greater possession this year than in the past.
  • Greater passing accuracy this year than in the past.
  • Worse penetration this year than three of the last four years.
  • Worse creativity this year than in the past.
  • Worse precision this year than in the past.
  • Worse finishing this year than in the past.

So while the opponents have had more of the ball outside the attacking final third they’ve been less efficient with it.

Tactically the Timbers have offered:

  • Fewer crosses per game this year than in the past.
  • More shots taken than in three of the last four years.
  • More shots on goal than in three of the last four years.

From an attacking standpoint the Timbers aren’t quite as predictable in their approaches to penetrating this year than in the past.

In other words less predictability in how the team penetrates the 18 yard box has resulted in more shots taken and nearly more shots on goal than in any previous year.

Tactically the Timbers have:

  • Averaged fewer fouls per game than in the past.
  • Averaged fewer tackles per game than in the past.
  • Ceded more opponent passes within their defending final third than in the past.
  • Blocked more opponent shots this year than in the past.
  • Had fewer goals scored against them than in three of the last four years – only 2015 was lower.

It’s interesting to me the Timbers have had fewer tackles and fewer fouls while ceding more passes to the opponent.

One of my pet peeves is statisticians who offer that a high volume of tackles means a player is a great defender – I could easily argue the opposite – the fewer tackles a player has the more likely that player has not been caught out of position.

Tell the folks who created the Audi Player Index that. 😉

There is a tactical approach known as “packing and IMPECT” – an approach developed after analysis of team performance soccer statistics in Europe.

  • It was this approach that France used to great effect when winning the World Cup.
  • It should be noted France didn’t win the World Cup strictly through counterattacking – they also won three games by dominating possession too.
  • In a recent home game we saw Savarese switch to a more attacking style when playing San Jose.
  • The Timbers had 59% of the possession and earned three points.
  • This is the first time the Timbers earned three points at home while also exceeding 55% possession this year.

In closing:

While Giovanni Savarese is at the tip of the spear it’s worthy to say both Paulson and Wilkinson have done a great job in selecting him.

You only need to look at Colorado and San Jose to know hiring a new head coach can go horribly wrong.

Here’s a look where the Timbers ranked in the Total Soccer Index after Week 5:

Now. after Week 22:

 

Final thoughts:

I’m not joking when offering credit to Paulson and Wilkinson – you only need to pick out Colorado Rapids (CRFC) in these same two diagrams.

In Week 5 CRFC were 6th best, at Week 22, they are now 2nd worst.  The team with the other new head coach to start the season, San Jose, is 3rd worst in MLS.

I think bringing Gio Savarese in was a great move.

Best, Chris

 

 

 

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

Ride on! Timbers play for the MLS Championship Cup

Opening March

In all walks of life there are few things that transcend the passion that both players and their supporters feel about football!

Simply the best supporter group in all of MLS

If you happen to be a Portland Timbers supporter you know what I mean… if not suggest you start.

So how bout those Timbers?

In this game, and for the better part of the last stretch of games starting with the away win in Real Salt Lake, the two players that have stood out the most are…

Darlington Nagbe and Diego Chara play the double pivot in a singular way

Diego Chara and Darlington Nagbe.

No better duo plays the double pivot in such a singular way.

Make no mistake in what I mean – what has occurred this year is the full-blown maturity of Darlington Nagbe as a box-to-box midfielder.  And with that progression his presence in the midfield, on both ends of the pitch, has opened up a whole new look for Portland.

Advantages working off this move have included:

  • Adding a true winger, Dairon Asprilla, to the right side of attack; who also shows good grist in defending.
  • Expanding Adi’s time and space to control and possess/move the ball atop the 18 yard box – the increase in goals should speak for itself.
  • Enhancing the value of Rodney Wallace, earlier this year Rodney struggled with lack of space – with Darlington moving central he’s gotten more time and space – hence an increase in assists.
  • Diego – oh Diego Valeri – you only had to watch this last game to see the value of Diego getting more time and space on the ball – more assists.

So for a team who struggled, heavily, with scoring goals the regular season they now lead everyone as the Championship final looms…

That offered, what’s in store for this weekend and the Championship Cup game?

Critical Match-ups:

Diego Chara – Federico Higuain

Darlington Nagbe – Tony Tchani

Diego Valeri – Wil Trapp

What a threesome of pairs…

I don’t like to lay a game on the line where just one player can make a difference in team performance but the match-up I see as being the most critical is Darlington Nagbe v Tony Tchani; sure hope there’s plenty of camera work on that match-up.

Two comments on this match-up; Nagbe is Mr. calm-cool-and-collected; Tchani showed a bit of edge in the game against New York where Kamara had to jump in and give him an ear-full.

Leading to two critical questions:

Will the sublime ability of Darlington Nagbe and his patented dribble penetrations be to much for Tchani to handle?

And just how many times does Tchani have to foul Nagbe to try and mitigate his talent?

Top targets:  

Fenando Adi – Kei Kamara

As play has developed for the Timbers Adi is as much a target to turn and strike the ball as he is to control and pass the ball.  For Kamara figure his greatest strength is in the air while also offering slashing runs that split defenders.

Wing Play: 

Jorge Villafana – Ethan Finlay

Alvas Powell – Justin Meram

Rodney Wallace – Harrison Afful

Dairon Asprilla – Waylon Francis

The match-ups here are more about sustaining balance in attack versus over-committing in attack. With both teams having great strength in counter-attacking how these individual battles finish could well determine the game.

Defenders and Set-Pieces:

Nat Borchers & Liam Ridgewell

Michael Parkhurst & Gaston Sauro

If there was an odds-on favorite Center-back to score a goal on a set-piece this game I’m swinging my axe in favor of Nat Borchers!  Note, this isn’t to preclude someone like Kamara or Adi getting their head on the ball either – it is what it is…

Goal Keepers:

Adam Kwarasey – Steve Clark

Again the edge goes to Portland – it should be noted that Adam just recieved the award for MLS Save of the Year ; click on his name to see that award winning save.

Off the bench:

Lucas Melano Cedrick Mabwati

If you didn’t get a chance to see how both these guys came off the bench and injected their respective teams with sublime ball movement and a superb final touch I suggest you click on their names to see for yourself. For Cedrick’s magic scroll to the 3:50 mark on the video clip.

Head Coaches:

Caleb Porter – Gregg Berhalter

For me, it’s not only a great match-up on the pitch it’s a great match-up off the pitch.  In store for this Sunday are two tactical and technical masters of the American way in soccer.

It’s not all about money and the individual stars this year – it’s all about setting the right conditions, tactically, that enable their respective teams to technically execute.

Each team has their style – Columbus – a possession based team who is just as likely to play the counter; and Portland?  Oddly enough, or is it, a possession based team who is just as likely to play the counter.

Both organizations have shown that you need a solid midfield who can possess and penetrate, as much in attack, as in defending with the ball.  Neither team blows the doors off the possession percentage statistics but both teams averaged greater than 50% while both also averaged greater than 78% in passing accuracy. Both in the top seven of each category.

Each also finished in the top six for goals scored from shots on goal and both finished in the top 5 for attacking possession with purpose.  Finally, it should also be noted that both teams finished in the top six for defending possession with purpose.  Fair to say both teams played well on both sides of the ball.

Given that, it only seems reasonable to think the game will be won by the team that best executes in the middle of the pitch – kinda like chess – win the middle and win the game.

That doesn’t mean we won’t see some direct play – we will – it’d be rude not to.

That said it also doesn’t mean set-pieces won’t play a part – they will too.

Any coach knows that every opportunity to create a shot on goal is an opportunity to win – in this game there is no other bottom line than that!

Who wins?

Portland…

#RCTID

Best, Chris

PS:  My thanks to David Chaffin and Steven Lenhart for some great pictures!

 

 

 

MLS – Week 29 – Gregg Berhalter – Manager of the Year? I think so…

Most should know, by now, that the top teams in MLS are queueing up for the final playoff push while others sit in dispair and wonder what’s gone wrong…

I’ll dig into that, in detail, in a few weeks – for now let’s take a look at those teams on the cusp (a whole bunch I might add) and see what we can see…

In the tradition of my analyses here’s the latest Possession with Purpose Strategic Composite Index (CPWP):

CPWP Strategic Index Week 29 MLS

Figure the West is down to two teams unless Portland completely folds with four games to go; for some perhaps not as unlikely as they’d like to admit given Will Johnson is out and Diego Valeri misses the next game against San Jose.

In the East it’s not quiet as simple – this conference has been plagued with bad team performances throughout the year – and it’s almost sickening to sense that Sporting Kansas City, a year in and year out top performer, will move to the Western Conference next year… wow – that sucks!

Be that as it may, Toronto, Philadelphia, Houston, and New York are battling for the 5th Playoff spot.

That doesn’t mean Columbus is in the clear but if ever a team deserved to make the Playoffs, in the East, it would be Columbus – one of the MOST consistent teams this year…

And that consistency of purpose has also translated to results in the league table – Caleb Porter did that with the Portland Timbers last year and Gregg Berhalter is doing that with Columbus this year…

Team performance AND results, combined, matter!

In my opinion Gregg Berhalter, hands down, is Manager of the Year!

I get it that Ben Olsen has turned his team around – but Berhalter has rebuilt his team – all Olsen has done is really find two new strikers and upgraded some defensive players – he has not rebuilt and redirected a new philosophical approach like Berhalter has.

Of course Columbus still need to make the playoffs to etch in stone that results oriented improvement matches team attacking and defending performance improvement.

Anyhow, I digress… statistically speaking the CPWP Strategic Index correlation (R2) to average points in the league table is (.83) – the highest yet this year.

Before moving on to APWP, some additional thoughts on Toronto, Philadelphia and Houston…

I watched that Toronto victory over Portland the other day and I can’t help but think how horrid that team is in overall, run of play, performance.

If the Timbers had any inkling of a defensive minded bench, and starting squad, the Reds would have been blown away – wow… but it’s about results in this league and when it came to set-pieces they got results.

As for Philadelphia – my hat is off to Jim Curtin – he’s taken the same squad, made a defensive tweak and brought them back – other than that nothing, absolutely nothing has changed between he and John Hackworth; er… other than the results – which of course stems from that defensive change — more here.

Both solid guys, both wanting to win, one took one path and it didn’t pay off – so the other took a slightly different path and it paid off…

Houston – well – they’ve been on the far side of great team performances this year more than most – what started as a good run might end as a good run – who knows – it’s a funny conference and poor performances in the East don’t mean you lose… fancy that!

Now on to Attacking PWP – here’s how they stand after Week 29:

APWP Strategic Index Week 29 MLS

A shiny example of how simply being a great attacking team ISN’T the answer in this league – too much focus by New York and Portland in attack as opposed to defending has cost them – BIG TIME… Cameron Knowles is the Defensive Coordinator for the Timbers and it’s clear, to me, he needs to go.

I’d imagine whoever the defensive coordinator for the Red Bulls is should be moved too…

Caleb Porter is a brilliant leader – and when you have brilliant leaders you don’t need ‘yes-men’ to work with them.

You need assistanct coaches with vision that looks in different areas – asks tough questions – pushes their own defensive agenda to make others in the organization to think even more, all the while stretching/pushing the added research and analysis you need to outperform the opponent on both sides of the ball…

I don’t personally know Cameron – have never even talked with him; he’s proabably a really good guy…

But it is clear, given the consistently bad defending nature/statistics/results of this team (goals against are 4th worst in MLS) the internal organizational structure to build a strong – defensive minded – thinking team – isn’t there…

If they make the Playoffs they will be lucky – very lucky; and that’s hard to say for me #RCTID!

New York – if New York gets edged out by any of those Eastern Conference teams I’d imagine Mike Petke gets sacked… the Red Bulls, like Portland, have been dodgy in defending all season long…

Sidenote:  With respect to Thierry Henry – he’s such a classy guy – I met him in the elevator at the MLS All Star game and he’s a normal guy, who respects his Head Coach, whoever that might be, and he simply plays great attacking football.

While he’s offered no indication he might retire I think he does; and unlike Landon Donovan I think Thierry is OKAY with not having his retirement, here, being made a big deal.

I’d offer a simple testamonial with Arsenal and Arsene Wenger is good enough for Henry – and rightly so – as his best footballing years came in London town!

Now about those fringe teams… Toronto, Houston, Philadelphia, and New York in the East…

  • Toronto – one of the worst passing teams in Major League Soccer – 75% across the entire pitch (5th worst in the league).  What makes this team work is Michael Bradley’s vision – a superb acquisition for MLS but is it good enough to stop the playoff-missing rot?
  • As for technical things that might have changed with Vanney taking over after Nelson got booted – I’m not seeing any… maybe things will show better at the end of the season – for now I think that bust up was about ego more than anything else…
  • Philadelphia – as noted, this team has tactically changed with John Hackworth being replaced by Jim Curtin.  Like Toronto, Philadelphia is a poor passing team – what is getting them where they are now is better defending – take note Portland!
  • Houston – on the trailing edge of good attacking and defending performances all season long.
  • As noted though – the tenor of Houston hasn’t been about leading, against teams, in attack – it’s more of a grinding team that works hard in defending and tries to take advantage of opponent weak spots when attacking.
  • Adding Garido and Beasley has helped that and you’ll see below in DPWP they are 7th worst after Week 29; yet after Week 19 they were 2nd worst – a move up the Index a full five places…
  • I’d imgine it’s that tenor that has lead to discussion about Kinnear moving to San Jose – hmmm… there’s more to that than meets the eye…
  • Anyhow, Bruin has flopped this year, and it’s likely he gets moved – and with Davis spending time with the USMNT that may have cost this team a whole bunch in leadership.
  • At the end of the day – Houston have a possible 15 points with five game remaining – all against Eastern Conference foes.
  • While it’s a long shot, if they get past New York this next weekend, I can see the dominoes fall in a favorable direction for the dynamic Dynamo – if the defense holds…  (my sleeper to push New York out…)

Moving on to Defending PWP:

DPWP Strategic Index Week 29 MLS

By the way – there’s Columbus at the top of the Defending PWP Strategic Index – and they were 5th best in APWP – for a combined 2nd best in CPWP…

Defense wins, so hopefully we see that consistent team performance carry on to the Playoffs and through to the finals!

As for the three teams (plus New York) in the East?

Team performance wise – there’s Houston sitting above New York, Philadelphia and Toronto – and six of the bottom seven teams in all of MLS (for team defending performance) are teams from the Eastern Conference – only the embarrassing, pathetic, Chivas USA are worse…

And with them taking a two year hiatus (you might as well say ‘relegated’) it’s about time that poorly organized team was dumped and replaced – hopefully they move as well!  I wonder how that impacts the Expansion Draft?

Anyhow – in the West, note that Vancouver has edged back into the higher echelon of team defending – they have FC Dallas, at home, with Seattle away, San Jose away and Colorado at home.

In Week 19, Vancouver were 9th best in DPWP – even with those two recent losses to Portland, they have now climbed to 5th best in DPWP; you don’t need to beat everybody to make the playoffs…

I can see Vancouver taking six of 12 points here.  Can the Timbers take nine of 12 points with two matches against San Jose, one against Real Salt Lake, and the final one away to FC Dallas (who will most certainly not want to finish 4th)?

Hard to say but if Gaston Fernandez can step in for Diego Valeri who knows?

For now, and I’ve not offered this before, I think playing both Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri, on the pitch, hurts the tenor of team defending on this team.

It’s almost like those two guys are too dynamic in attack and less able to motor and provide a  more box-to-box support this team probably needs in defending…

If they stay together then the upgrade at both fullback spots – plus another center-back – is really needed to keep the defense sound.  I digress…

All that said means San Jose are a likely doormat the last five games.

If Watson is elementary  in coaching the last four games he is surely gone for next year – I’d imagine he and Wondolowski and others will not want to finish the season with just six points – and that’s opining that they can beat Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto as well as take the expected three points against Chivas?

Unlikely – I’d offer Watson sees HIS team as being one that can pull 12 points out of their remaining five games – especially since their last one is against Chivas USA…

In closing:

All to play for – regardless of how things go this year – these same teams will not have these same players next year.

One thing about MLS is that variation in team composition is consistent – the expansion draft is likely to see a few teams lose at least two players – making the academy and (individual) team scouting all the more important than a ‘composite’ MLS scouting approach.

To think that this franchise driven league relies more on an overall ‘collective scouting system to get players for the league’ flies in the face of the very economic and competitive structure of this country where individual thinking, individual feeling, and individual analysis suits individual companies better to make them individually more competitive.

It’s not about the “league” anymore in my opinion – and Chivas USA, coupled with New York City FC and all that the Manchester City pedigree brings with it, has shown that.

From here on (MLSNext???) it should be about the individual team within the larger franchise.

I think it’s time for poker to go up…  MLS has arrived as a competitive league – now individual teams, and individual owners, should go out there and bloody compete on a team to team footing and may the best organization win!

And yes, Gregg Berhalter should be the MLS Coach of the Year!

Best, Chris

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Major League Soccer – Week 28 – A Union divided? Not now…

Twenty eight games in – the screws are tightening and the pucker factor hit the Vancouver Whitecaps big time; see here: Valeri’s vicious volley from Villafana vanquishes Vancouver.

For me though, the real story is how the tables have turned in Philadelphia – I’ll get to that in just a wee bit – for now here’s my usual Possession with Purpose Family of Indices:

CPWP Strategic Index Week 28 MLS

CPWP Strategic Index Week 28 MLS

At this stage the top ten teams above the red line are the top ten teams in the Index.  Good; the End State of trying to match the league table without points seems to be holding steady and the correlation this week (R2) remains a steady and strong .82.

There are at least two key issues this week – who continues to push up the table to make the Playoffs and who continues to push for the Supporter’s Shield – Seattle took a hit this week – but – then again they won the US Open Cup – winning silver is never a bad thing.

In terms of making the Playoffs – tight races for sure.  Some teams have a possible 18 points to get while some others have 15 points to get – with that many points available Vancouver, Philadelphia, Colorado, Toronto, Houston, and even San Jose are still in the hunt.

Moving on to the APWP Strategic Index and peeling back changes to the Philadelphia Union: 

APWP Strategic Index Week 28 MLS

APWP Strategic Index Week 28 MLS

LA Galaxy continue to be attack mad – and some familiar faces appear up near the top as well – remember Portland and New York from last year?  Well… they are still here and still dangerous.

But this isn’t about those three teams – today’s focus is about Philadelphia and how the Union have come together.  In order to see that let’s peel back how they differ from earlier this year with John Hackworth leading the cause.

Here’s the statistical details – do they show any changes?  

  • The average number of total passes with John was 454 per game; under Jim it’s 367 per game – a HUGE difference!
  • The average amount of possession with John was 50.85%; under Jim it’s 44.04% – a HUGE difference!
  • The average penetration per possession under John was 22.04%; under Jim it’s 26.14% – in terms of volume that also represents a HUGE difference!
  • The average Shots Taken per penetrating possession under John was 20.11%; under Jim it’s 19.06% – not big but worthy…
  • The average Shots on Goal per Shot Taken under John was 29.83%; under Jim it’s 38.30% – a HUGE difference!
  • The average Goals Scored per Shots on Goal under John was 36.78%; under Jim it’s 41.14% – a HUGE difference!
  • The average Goals Scored under John was 1.17; under Jim it’s 1.93 – a HUGE difference!

In all, there are considerable differences in team attacking performances under the direction of John Hackworth versus Jim Curtin.

This isn’t offering that one coach is better than the other; what it does offer – however – is that with a slightly different playing style – the output of a team, with the same players, can change.

Top be precise, the volume of passes, and percentages of possession, penetration, shots on goal, and goals scored are considerably different; and those differences do lead to an increase in goals scored and total points.

Said a different way – the Union are possessing the ball less – which in turn means the opponent is possessing the ball more, which, in turn,  means there is more time and space in the opponent’s own Defending Final Third if the opponent loses the ball and the Union can capitalize on that open space.

Might the Union Defending team performance indicators support that?  Let’s see; here’s the DPWP Strategic Index:

DPWP Strategic Index Week 28 MLS

DPWP Strategic Index Week 28 MLS

In looking specifically at the Union; here’s the breakdown on the Union Defending team performance outputs under John Hackworth versus Jim Curtin:

  • The opponent average number of total passes with John was 440 per game; under Jim it’s 468 per game – a big difference!
  • The opponent average amount of possession with John was 48.90%; under Jim it’s 55.96% – a HUGE difference!
  • The opponent average penetration per possession under John was 21.26%; under Jim it’s 21.25% – no difference!
  • The opponent average volume of passes in the Union Defending Final Third with John was 101.50; under Jim it’s 126.27 – a large increase in volume of penetration.
  • The opponent average volume of passes completed in the Union Defending Final Third with John was 69.07; under Jim it’s 81.05 – an increase in volume of completed passes in the Union Defending Final Third.
  • The opponent  average Shots Taken per penetrating possession under John was 19.49%; under Jim it’s 13.95% – a worthy difference…
  • The opponent average Shots on Goal per Shot Taken under John was 39.61%; under Jim it’s 37.78% – a worthy difference…
  • The opponent average Goals Scored per Shots on Goal under John was 36.90%; under Jim it’s 34.12% – a worthy difference…
  • The opponent average Goals Scored under John was 1.71; under Jim it’s 1.25 – a HUGE difference!

In all, there are worthy differences in team defending performance between John and Jim.

In answering the leading question into DPWP – the answer is yes…

  • The volume of penetration has increased markedly under the leadership of Jim Curtin in comparison to John Hackworth – it’s that difference that leads many to believe that the defensive line of the back-four has dropped deeper…
  • In addition, with dropping deeper, it’s expected that the space will get tighter – with less space, and time, opponent shots taken and shots on goal volume should decrease.
  • Under John, the opponents volume of shots taken was 12.36 per game with 4.79 shots on goal per game – under Jim, shots taken is 11.40 per game while shots on goal is 4.00 per game.
  • So they not only decrease in volume, they also decrease in percentage as noted in the bullets above.
  • Finally, under John Hackworth, Goals Against were 1.70 per game; under Jim Curtin they are 1.36.

Bottom line here – the Union are simply better in defending, and in turn, their deeper drop, in defending, has led to an improved attack.

In Closing:

For those only interested in Total Points – under John Hackworth – the Philadelphia Union had earned 11 points in 14 games; under the guidance of Jim Curtin (now) the team has 27 points from 15 games.

If that pattern continues (1.8 points per game) the Union could finish with 47 points – and in an Eastern Conference – that just may be enough to make the Playoffs.

All for now …

Later this week, my run down on the English Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, and a special review on Expected Wins looking at all four leagues together…

Looking to answer this question – is comparing individual players on Barcelona to FC Koln, to Southampton, to LA Galaxy worthy given that the four leagues all have different patterns to winning – or do they?

Best, Chris

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Colorado Rapids Ripped, Sundered, and Shredded – MLS Soccer through Week 26

It’s been awhile, I suppose, since a score-line of 6-nil has popped up in Major League Soccer and given the rarity, at least this year, I figured it’d be a worthy way to peel back how things are going in my traditional review of Major League Soccer each week.

As for the last time a score-line like that happened I haven’t got an historical clue but it’s the biggest difference in a score-line I’ve seen since analyzing team performance on Possession with Purpose.

In fact I do recall a five – nil win earlier this year, by New England, over Seattle.  And a five – nil win, by Montreal, over Houston last year, but nothing comes to mind for a score-line of six – nil.  (Perhaps?) others may know of a really lopsided win like this one in the history of MLS.

In all the games so far this year this was the most dominating ‘result’ and ‘outright team performance in possession with purpose’ of anyone; in case you were wondering – in the Timbers game against San Jose, this past weekend, their APWP for that game was 2.6938.

So when I mean comprehensive – I mean from, square one to the opponents goal, comprehensive… Only seven times have teams shattered the 3.0 barrier in the APWP Index this year; here they are in order:

  1. LA Galaxy 6-nil win over Colorado, Week 26 = 3.1740
  2. FC Dallas 4-1 win over Houston, Week 5 = 3.1032
  3. LA Galaxy 5-1 win over New England, Week 16 = 3.0858
  4. Columbus Crew 3-nil over Houston, Week 25 = 3.0675
  5. Chicago Fire 5-4 win over New York, Week 9 = 3.0302
  6. Sporting KC 3-nil win over Montreal, Week 9 = 3.0062, and finally
  7. DC United 3-1 win over Chivas USA, Week 19 = 3.0008

Note: the games in bold print, with italics, are games where the losing side had a Red Card.

For me, this reinforces that my ‘not‘ counting Red Cards, as a separate data point, to influence this Index, is appropriate.

If I were to add Red Cards, to the Index equation, a team would be penalized twice.

With that offered here’s the overall Composite PWP through Week 26:

CPWP Strategic Index MLS Week 26I’ve already touched on some observations here in my article earlier this week, about Standard Deviations, so just a couple of additional bits and pieces.

The R2 (correlation of this Index to Points in the League Table) is .79 this week; compared to .80 last week…

Relation to the League Table:

  • Five out of the top six Eastern Conference teams, in this Index, are currently above the red line in the League Table; with Philadelphia and New York swapped in this Index compared to the League Table.  (80% accurate)
  • Five out of the top five Western Conference teams, in this Index, are currently above the red line in the League Table.  (100% accurate)
  • Gentle reminder – the End State of this Possession with Purpose Analysis is to create an Index that comes as close to matching the League Table, as possible, without using points earned from wins or draws.

Moving on to the Attacking PWP Strategic Index:

APWP Strategic Index MLS Week 26

As expected, the top team in APWP remains LA Galaxy – all told a 10% lead over all other teams in MLS.  Chivas USA, and Wilmer Cabrera (bless him for trying) remain bottom.

The worst team in attack specifically for Week 26 (only) was Vancouver; with DC United 2nd worst and Toronto FC 3rd worst.  DC United and Vancouver played to a nil-nil draw so that’s probably no surprise.

As for Toronto – well, who bloody knows?

As offered by my friends Stephen Brandt (along with Keith Kokinda) on this latest podcast it appears to many in the northeast that Toronto is battling hard to become the Chivas USA of Canada; seems they are doing a pretty good job of that!

In concerning Portland, who had some records this past week in Shots Taken and Shots on Goal.

We already know, this year, that a critical element to scoring goals (that isn’t really measured publicly) is Time and Space.

In watching that game there is no question the Timbers had time or had space – but rarely did they have both…

As much as it may pain some folks San Jose, believe it or not, were in the right place at the right time (given the volume of shots faced) more often than not…  after all they did block nine of those 32 shots offered.

And if you didn’t know, Portland have four games where their opponent has blocked nine or more shots this year.  Only one other team has had that many shots blocked in more than one game – LA Galaxy; twice.

Seattle has the record this year – they had 12 shots blocked by, guess who, San Jose in Week 23!!!  And guess who one of the teams was that blocked nine or more against LA – yup – San Jose!

Can you say ZONE DEFENSE?

So I’m not sure I completely agree with Caleb Porter when he indicates it’s not about tactics anymore (to paraphrase).

I would offer he really knows it is – but when dropping two points, at home, again… I can certainly empathize with him voicing that in a press conference.

For me, what that translates to is this… given the amount of time left in the season there is absolutely no value and benefit going over technical weaknesses in detail.

They are known, understood, and they need to be filed, recognized for what they are, and move on.

In other words – roll the sleeves up and just bloody get on with the job in hand – win…

Come this next weekend, against Colorado, who were COMPLETELY humiliated by LA Galaxy – you can bet Mastroeni is not only wanting his team to win to get back in the race – but he’s also probably wanting his team to win in order to keep his chances of running the Rapids next year a reality…

With that said, here’s the Defending PWP Strategic Index through Week 26:

DPWP Strategic Index MLS Week 26

I read somewhere, here, that Columbus Crew were the biggest over-achievers in Major League Soccer and slow in defending; bollocks… complete and utter bollocks.

You simply can’t convince me that this team performance Index, with a -.7o correlation to points in the League Table, supports Columbus being “over-achievers and slow in defending”…

Let’s not forget that Columbus is the most consistent team in passing accuracy across MLS (least standard deviation i.e. consistency of purpose)

Indeed, as the Composite PWP Index points out at the beginning of this article, the Columbus Crew are simply a strong team that has been consistently strong throughout the year.

  • At Week four they were best in the CPWP Index
  • At Week seven they were 2nd in the CPWP Index
  • At Week 12 they were 3rd in the CPWP Index
  • At Week 18 they were 5th in the CPWP Index
  • And at week 22 they were 5th in the CPWP Index
  • Now – they have climbed back up to 3rd best in the CPWP Index
  • Not sure there have been many teams, besides LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders, who have been as consistently strong in consistency of purpose.

So like I said – bollocks to them being pidgeon-holed as over-achievers… and while many may disagree, for me, this is just another example of how poorly the mainstream media do in really knowing, understanding and communicating what football (soccer) is all about.

In regarding Houston… and their position in DPWP.

The addition of Luis Garrido has added value; they have pushed up past Chicago Fire SC, and are mere thousandths of a point behind both Montreal and Toronto in team defending.

As for Toronto – they continue their slide…

I’m simply having a hard time wrapping my head around Nelson being sacked, I do see statistical information supporting the sacking but most organizations lean towards ‘results’ as opposed to ‘statistical indicators’… and when it came to results Toronto were third best in the Eastern Conference before Ryan was sacked.

(Perhaps?) this is a ‘team organizational decision making indicator’ (from Toronto FC) where statistical information has as much, if not more value in a coaching change,  than ‘results do’???

In closing…

The screws get turned even tighter… winning is the key but within that phrase there remains the need to tactically ‘get it right’… meaning defense is absolutely critical.

Best, Chris

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Consistency of Purpose – MLS Through Week 26

Before digging into a different view on Major League Soccer team performance, this week, I’ll offer up my Possession with Purpose Index for consideration.

A few changes after this week see Columbus jumping past Sporting (rightly so given the Crew won and Sporting didn’t).

In addition, Portland was passed by FC Dallas while a few other teams swapped places.

I wonder if Will Johnson really knows how odd it looks to see him run willy-nilly across the pitch at times, wasting energy, and then offering up an emotional blow-out like he did on Sunday, that simply won’t do as a leader…

The team that had the biggest gain was Philadelphia Union – moving up three spaces and right into the Playoff race – taking six points from a demoralized Toronto side certainly helped.

CPWP Strategic Index MLS Week 26

A reminder – the two yellow stars indicate mid-season coaching changes.

Now for a different view:

In preparation for my analysis on Consistency of Purpose a few details to set the stage up front:

  1. This approach takes a look at Attacking only.
  2. The statistical analysis will measure Standard Deviation.
  3. Standard Deviation – A low standard deviation indicates that the data points tend to be very close to the mean (also called expected value); a high standard deviation indicates that the data points are spread out over a large range of values.
  4. In other words I will look at team Passing Accuracy (for each game – for each team) and identify the standard deviation (variation) that team has in being (regularly) near their average versus not being near their average.
  5. For example, a team averages 75% passing accuracy – a lower standard deviation would mean that the team regularly comes close to hitting that average (a close pattern say +/-4%).  A higher standard deviation would mean the team could have a high difference (say +/- 20-25%) on creating that average.
  6. What this translates to – is consistency of purpose.  Are you consistently near your target on a regular basis or are you sporadic and “disorganized” in hitting your target on a regular basis.
  7. The lower the better when it comes to viewing this as a measure of consistency.
  8. Areas evaluated include Passing Accuracy across the Entire Pitch, Passing Accuracy within the Final Third, Penetration percentage into the Final Third based upon overall possession, Shots taken per penetration percentage, Shots on Goal per Shots Taken and Goals Scored per Shots on Goal.

To begin:  Consistency of Purpose:  Standard Deviation Team Passing Accuracy.

Consistency of Purpose Passing Accuracy Week 26

The team with the most consistency (least variation) in Passing Accuracy through Week 26 is Columbus – on the other end of the scale there’s Chicago Fire Soccer Club.

Columbus Crew also have the best overall passing accuracy of any team in Major League Soccer – so they are not only the best in accuracy (81.40%)  – there are also consistently performing the best, week in and week out.

Toronto recently sacked Ryan Nelson – in overall Passing Accuracy Toronto are third worst in average (74.35%) – in addition they are also the 2nd worst team in consistently hitting their expected value – i.e. no consistency and very poor performance compared to others.

Perhaps some might see that as useful information in understanding why the Toronto Front Office sacked Ryan?

Vancouver – for now Vancouver average 79.49% Passing Accuracy per game (4th best in MLS) but they are 10th worst in consistency of hitting their expected value (mean).   So while they are pretty good when it comes to average Passing Accuracy – they lack consistency in hitting that expected value on a regular basis.

 Consistency of Purpose:  Standard Deviation Team Passing Accuracy Final Third.

Consistency of Purpose Passing Accuracy Final Third Week 26

The team with the most consistent level of Passing Accuracy within the Final Third is New York; their variation is less than 5% with what is expected, given how they’ve performed this year.  

The worst team in this category, for consistency, is Sporting KC (>9% variation from game to game).  In total their overall average is 64.67% – so through the course of the season Sporting have had a very large variation in the in creating that average.

Interesting here, again, is Toronto – they are 7th most consistent in hitting their expected Final Third Passing Accuracy percentage – the problem is that better level of consistency is based upon an average that’s just 62.73%; the 5th worst in MLS.

Again a pattern of consistency – but consistency with respect to poor performance – another nail in the Nelson coffin?

Consistency of Purpose:  Standard Deviation Team Penetration Percentage Per Possession.

Consistency of Purpose Penetration Percentage Per Possession Week 26

Atop the queue, again, is New York – they lead MLS in the consistency when it comes to in penetrating the opponents final third per possession.

In other words New York expects to hit a target of ~ 22% per game – and their variation in hitting that target is quite small; especially when compared to Portland.

For Portland they’ve been as high as 44% (yesterday against San Jose) and as low as 8.69% against Houston, game 8.

Given that wide disparity, it’s no wonder their standard deviation hovers near 9%.  Put in other words they are not really that consistent, game to game, in hitting an expected value like New York is.

Might a large  variation here mean the opponent is controlling more of how much Portland penetrates than Portland themselves?

Consistency of Purpose:  Standard Deviation Team Shots Taken Per Penetration.

Consistency of Purpose Shots Taken Per Penetrating Possession Week 26The team most consistent in this category is Real Salt Lake (just over 4% variation for the season so far).   Note that New York are up here again.

In considering how consistent New York has been in hitting their expected values might this mean they are more predictable in what outcomes they might generate?

I’m not sure at this stage but I’ll look into that after the season is over.

For now know that Vancouver are on the bottom end of this scale – and given their results of late perhaps this high amount of variation means one of two things.

Either they aren’t getting the appropriate free space and time to take a shot – or – the players are looking to take a more perfect shot than is reasonable?

Consistency of Purpose:  Standard Deviation Team Shots on Goal Per Shots Taken.

Consistency of Purpose Shots on Goal Per Shots Taken Week 26

Ah… at last, Toronto makes it to the front of the queue.  An interesting note here – quality usually beats quantity in this league and when it comes to the bottom line – a critical piece of that puzzle is putting shots taken on goal.

So this is a good thing for Toronto… or is it?

At this time Toronto are third worst in putting shots on goal from shots taken (34.51%).

So what this really means is that they, again, are consistent in being consistently poor compared to other teams in MLS.

Is this another nail in the coffin on why Ryan Nelson may have been sacked?

As for the others near the top – note again New York is right there; as are Sporting, Portland, and Seattle.

On the other end is San Jose – by a large margin.

Perhaps a reasonable view here is that the teams on the lower end are simply taking harder, or more frequent shots that don’t hit the target… might more patience change that?

I think so but that might be pretty hard to prove…

As for DC United and New England being on the lower end… it would appear these two teams might have some tendencies that vary given home and away games; when the season ends I’ll look into these attacking Standard Deviations again.

Consistency of Purpose:  Standard Deviation Team Goals Scored Per Shots on Goal.

Consistency of Purpose Goals Scored Per Shots on Goal Week 26

Real Salt Lake lead the league in consistency here – but when it actually comes to scoring those goals they are 7th worst in MLS.

That being said, if predictability were specifically focused on goal scoring only; it seems pretty likely Real Salt Lake would be the most predictable.

On the flip side that means the team with the greatest variation in expected goals is FC Dallas; given their high volume of Red Cards this year perhaps that makes sense?  Others may have a different view…

Consistency of Purpose:  Standard Deviation Team Ranking.

Consistency of Purpose Attacking the Opponent Least Combined Deviation Ranking Week 26

In case you are interested the team who has the most, combined, overall consistency in hitting expected values is New York; the team that has the most variation in hitting expected values is New England.

As noted – this could mean that a team with greater variation, while winning, is harder to defend against than a team who is consistent in hitting expected values.

I’ll leave that for others to decide.

For now I’d simply offer that New York is pretty predictable in what they will do when they play a game – as is Real Salt Lake…

In Closing:

If you had to choose which team statistic you’d like to have as the most consistent, which would it be?

For next week I will include a look at Defending Consistency of Purpose.

In the following week I’ll chart MLS, as a whole; the intent there will be to use that information as a comparison when viewing the same outputs for the English Premier League, Bundesliga, and La Liga.

For me, the greater the variation in Passing Accuracy across all those leagues might help create a more realistic ‘apples to apples’ comparison between the leagues…

Best, Chris

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