Category: MLS Playoffs

MLS Playoffs – Predictions with Purpose (Updated)

To the chase…  my PWP Predictability Index leveraging my Possession with Purpose Analysis.  Click here for my latest revision or click here to read the initial revision.

NOTE:  Updates for the Red Bulls v DC United and Sounders v Dallas match are at the end of the article.

The Predictability Index itself is the CPWP Index data minus Goals Scored / Goals Against and is split into two diagrams – Home Predictability versus Away Predictability.

Here’s the CPWP Strategic Predictability Index for teams at Home:

CPWP PREDICTABILITY INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 HOME

Here’s the CPWP Strategic Predictability Index for teams Away from Home.

CPWP PREDICTABILITY INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 AWAY

Note the significant differences in how the teams are predicted to perform at home versus on the road; four teams really sucked at home this year, while four teams were expected to perform quite well on the road.  

Here’s how it works; I will compare the two digit number of the home team with the two digit number of the away team.

Whichever number is higher it’s that team which is predicted to win… again… based upon their history of team performance in overall attacking and defending, exclusive of goals scored; this year.

And now the PWP Predictions:

FC Dallas versus Vancouver Whitecaps matchup.  FC Dallas at Home (0.00) while Vancouver on the Road (-.11)  FC Dallas wins.

FC Dallas key indicators are ceding possession and creating quick counter-attacking scenarios that use time and space created by Vancouver being too aggressive in attack.

Vancouver key indicators are maintaining patience in possession and not losing position in defending – they are one of the top defending teams in MLS; they will need to be at their best to beat Dallas.

Next up; New York Red Bulls versus Sporting Kansas City.  New York at Home (0.10) while Sporting Kansas City on the Road (0.05) New York wins.

New York key indicators are their attack from a number of different angles.  They are simply one of the top attacking teams in all of MLS – they need to attack, attack, attack, and hope, with all their hope, that they can keep Sporting KC from scoring a goal.

Sporting KC key indicators are their ability to defend; they are still one of the best defending teams in MLS.  If they can control the wide open attack, I’d expect from New York, and their propensity for fouling in their own defending final third, I can see some individual talent from Zusi or some set-pieces giving them the edge to win.

Columbus Crew versus New England Revolution.  Columbus Crew at Home (0.06)  while New England on the Road (-0.08).  Columbus wins game 1.  Columbus Crew on the Road (0.06) while New England at Home (0.23) -> New England wins game 2.  I offer Columbus advances over New England on away goal difference.

Columbus key indicators include being one of the most consistent teams in overall attacking and defending team performance in MLS – with this being a two game set I’d imagine consistency in attacking and penetration as well as consistency in defending the danger spaces will see them through.

New England key indicators are slightly changed with Jones on the pitch – his leadership may give the edge to a Revolution team who are, in my opinion, outgunned in almost every other category.  They are a big under-dog in my opinion but not everybody rates Columbus as strongly as I do…

Real Salt Lake versus LA Galaxy.   Salt Lake at Home (0.33)  while LA Galaxy on the Road (0.12).  RSL wins game 1.   LA Galaxy at Home (0.19)  while Salt Lake on the Road (-0.01).  LA Galaxy wins game 2.  I offer LA Galaxy advance over Real Salt Lake on away goals difference.  

Salt Lake key indicators include, as noted, a stingy defense at home and a propensity to win in Rio Tinto.  They also have pedigree not unlike LA Galaxy, and perhaps an even more veteran line-up when it comes to big games.  Lest we forget Salt Lake could have done much better last year and didn’t – they will have added energy that might surpass the emotions LA bring with them in pushing to help Donovan raise the Cup once more.

LA Galaxy key indicators are pace, possession, penetration and all around purpose that operated at peak performance for almost the entire year.  It should be noted that they didn’t collect the silverware last week and in all likelihood they could stumble here as well as they may look past Real and consider the Cup is theirs…  So arrogance is an enemy as is the continued lack of mental awareness by Gonzalez…

More to follow after the games midweek after seeing who qualifies to play Seattle and DC United…

As for my own personal predictions I can see New York advancing as well as FC Dallas but the Vancouver defense is very good as is the Sporting KC defense.

I will go with Sporting over New York and Vancouver over FC Dallas because I think those team defenses are better – and for me it’s all about defense.

With respect to Columbus – I agree with my PWP Prediction model for that game as well as the game between LA and RSL…  and in this case I also happen to think the defenses for Columbus and LA are better.

More to follow:…

Seattle Sounders at Home (.22) while Dallas on the Road (-.20).  Seattle wins when playing at Home.  FC Dallas at Home (.00) while  Seattle on the Road (-.04).  FC Dallas wins at home.  Seattle advances on away goals difference.

For me, I can see Seattle beating FC Dallas at home and on the road.  Dallas may be a bit tired for game 1 and the Predictability Index hasn’t been built to address ‘tired legs’…

At the end of the day this should be a clean sweep for the Sounders…

DC United at Home (.03) while New York on the Road (-.03).  DC United wins at Home.  New York at Home (.10) while DC United on the Road (-.08).  New York wins at Home.  New York advances on away goals difference.

For me I can see a clean sweep here as well – it may be surprising but I can see New York, riding the wave of Phillips and, most likely, the last season for Thierry Henry, all the way into the Finals.  This is not intended to diss DC United.

They are a very good team but somehow I don’t see the ‘tired legs’ syndrome impacting the Red Bulls as much as Dallas… too much at stake for a team that has invested huge money in their players and program.

Best, Chris

COPYRIGHT, All Rights Reserved.  PWP – Trademark.

 

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 – Predicting Team Standings in Professional Soccer

CAN IT BE DONE?

Over the last four years I’ve conducted research on various professional soccer leagues and competitions.  To include Major League Soccer, the English, German, and Spanish Premier Leagues, as well as the UEFA Champions League and the Men’s World Cup of 2014.

Here’s my latest analyses on how the Possession with Purpose Index can be used to predict which teams will make the playoffs, qualify for the UEFA Champions League, or make the semi-finals of the World Cup..

Before beginning here’s a rerun on a few important items of interest about Possession with Purpose:

Intent:  Develop a simplified, strategic set of performance indicators to better understand the outcome of a game based upon primary inputs.

End State:

  • A documented method for measuring team performance from those indicators.
  • An index that ranks teams for their performance based on this method.
  • The index, while excluding points, comes close to matching results in the MLS league table.
  • Bonus – unexpected outcome – a tool to predict teams making the MLS Playoffs.

Key events to date:

  • Objective index developed in 2013
  • Results presented at the World Conference on Science and Soccer 2014
  • Approach published in the book – International Research Science and Soccer II – Routledge, Taylor, and Francis 2016
  • Leagues/Competitions evaluated
  • MLS 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016
    • English Premier League 2014
    • Bundesliga 2014
    • La Liga 2014
    • European Championship League 2014
    • Men’s World Cup 2014

Major League Soccer 2013 – The Maiden Year for PWP:

mls-2013

  • Nine of the top ten teams in the CPWP Index made the MLS Playoffs in 2013
  • Internal outputs from team performances showed that teams who cede possession (have lower than 50% possession) can be ranked within the top ten so the index is not biased towards teams that possess the ball greater than 50%
  • This doesn’t even include all the internal evidence on the various tactical styles of play each coach advocated.
  • Three of the bottom four teams replaced their head coaches as well.
  • It’s the initial results here that provided me compelling information to investigate deeper into what the outputs of the index might offer.
  • Each subsequent index shows a gold and red star – indicating which team finished first and last in the league table.

English Premier League 2014:

epl-2014

  • Winner of the League, Chelsea, finished 2nd in the index.
  • All four of the top four teams in the index advanced to the UEFA Champions League; those teams with green bars.
  • –By week 16, of 38 weeks, the four teams who advanced to 2015 UEFA Champions League were the top four teams in the Index; and they didn’t move out of the top four the rest of the season!
  • Three of the bottom four teams in the index were relegated in 2014; those teams with red bars.

Germany Premier League 2014:

bl-2014

  • Winner of the League, Bayern Munich, finished 1st in the index.
  • All four of the top four teams in the index advanced to the UEFA Champions League; green bars.
  • –By week 21 the four teams who advanced to 2015 UEFA Champions League were the top four teams in the Index; and they didn’t move out of the top four the rest of the season!
  • Augsburg and FC Schalke, who advanced to Europa League, finished 6th and 8th, respectively, in the index (light green bars).
  • For those teams relegated (red bars), SC Paderborn, finished worst in the league table and index, while Freiburg was 7th worst in the index and Hamburger SV was 3rd worst in the index.

Spanish Premier League 2014:

spl-2014

  • Winner of the League, Barcelona, finished 1st in the index.
  • All four of the top four teams in the index advanced to the UEFA Champions League; green bars.
  • By week 14 the four teams who advanced to 2015 UEFA Champions League were the top four teams in the Index; and they didn’t move out of the top four the rest of the season!
  • Sevilla and Villarreal, the two teams advancing to Europa League finished 5th and 6th, respectively, in the index; light green bars.
  • The three teams relegated in 2014 were Cordoba, Almeria, and Eibar.  They finished 2nd worst, 3rd worst, and 4th worst (respectively) in the index; red bars.
  • Of note; Levante, who finished worst in the 2014 CPWP Index finished last in the 2015 La Liga Standings.

UEFA Champions League 2014:

uefa-cl-2014

  • Winner and top team in the Index – Barcelona
  • Four of the seven top teams in the index advanced to the semi-finals
  • –Barcelona 1st, Real Madrid 3rd, FC Bayern Munich 5th, and Juventus 7th; green bars.
  • By the end of round one the top four teams to make the semi-finals were all in the top 10 for the index; with Barcelona 1st, Bayern Munich 3rd, Real Madrid 4th, and Juventus 9th.
  • Poor performers, APOEL Nicosia and Galatasaray finished 2nd and 4th worst (respectively) in the index; red bars.

Men’s World Cup 2014:

mwc-2014

  • Winner of the World Cup. Germany, finished 1st in the index, with 2nd place finisher, Argentina 5th best in the index.
  • Four of the top seven teams to reach the semi-finals finished 1st, 2nd, 5th, and 7th in the index; green bars.
  • By the end of round one, the four teams to make it so the semi-finals were all in the top six of the CPWP Index; with eventual winners, Germany 1st, Argentina 3rd, Netherlands 5th, and Brazil 6th.
  • With Brazil giving up seven goals to Germany in the semi-finals they dropped from 7th to 18th in the index.
  • France, Colombia, Belgium, and Costa Rica are the teams who made it to the quarter finals; light green bars.
  • All three teams that failed to earn a point in the World Cup finished worst (Australia), 2nd worst (Honduras), and 4th worst (Cameroon); red bars.

Side note about the Men’s World Cup:

  • USA finished 5th worst in the index (blue bar).
  • At that time I called for Jurgen Klinsmann to be sacked.  Why?
  • My two most compelling reasons were:
    • –Omitting Landon Donovan from the squad (huge reduction in squad mentality/leadership without his presence – plus he was simply the best striker/forward in the USA).
    • Replacing Graham Zusi with Omar Gonzalez late on in the game against Portugal – that replacement (a huge tactical error) created a vacancy in the area where Graham Zusi was defending; the exact same area where Ronaldo delivered his killer cross from.
  • Two years later, after numerous tactical and mental leadership errors, Jurgen Klinsmann was finally sacked.
  • I wonder where our team would be (NOW) if Sunil Gulati would have had the backbone to sack Jurgen Klinsmann back then?
  • I’m not afraid to say I told you so Sunil Gulati…

Major League Soccer 2014:

mls-2014

  • Four of the top ten teams, after week 1 CPWP Index, made the playoffs; with SSFC, eventual Supporter Shield winners in third.  After week 13 Seattle never fell further than 3rd in the Index.
  • Eventual Cup winners, LA Galaxy, were 11th after week one.  By week 8 they were 1st in the Index and did not fall out of the top two after week nine.
  •  Slow starter award goes to DC United, who were bottom of the Index until the end of week 5; when they finally breached the top ten.
  • It was here, along with seeing FC Dallas, at the top of the Index, that reinforced the Index was not overly influenced by teams who have high amounts of possession.
  • In other words, the Index would, and does, rank teams in the top ten even when they cede possession and play more direct/counter attacking football.
  • Although the first four weeks of the Index didn’t predict more than four of the top ten teams making the playoffs by week eight the Index showed nine of the top ten teams making the playoffs.
  • The level of accuracy, from week eight, going forwards never dropped below 70% and reached (and sustained 90% accuracy) by week 25 for the remainder of the year.
  • Accuracy in predicting the top ten teams making the playoffs was no worse than 40% (the first four weeks) and no less than 70% throughout the remainder of the year with 90% accuracy first attained by week eight – and sustained by week 25.

Major League Soccer 2015:

mls-2015

  • Seven of the top ten teams, after week 1 CPWP Index, made the playoffs; with NYRB, eventual Supporter Shield winners in ninth.
  • Eventual Cup winners, Portland, were 8th after week one.
  • Slow starter award goes to New England, who started at bottom after week one, but had breached the top ten by week seven.
  • At no time did the CPWP Index have less than seven eventual playoff teams in the top ten.  And by week seven nine of the top ten teams in the Index were bound for the playoffs.
  • Accuracy in predicting the top ten teams making the playoffs was no worse than 70% at any given time – and as high as 90% accurate by week seven.

Major League Soccer 2016:

mls-2016

  • Seven of the top ten teams, after week 1 CPWP Index, made the playoffs; with FCD, eventual Supporter Shield winners in first.
  • For those who were surprised by the Colorado Rapids this year – you shouldn’t be.  By week four, the CPWP Index had Colorado Rapids as third best in MLS; and they didn’t move out of the top four, in the Index, the rest of the year.
  • Slow starter award goes to New York Red Bulls; it wasn’t until week 12 that the Red Bulls breached the top four, but by week 14 they found their place at the top of the Index.
  • At no time did the CPWP Index have fewer than six of the eventual playoff teams out of the top ten.  And by week 25 nine of the top ten teams in the Index were bound for the playoffs.
  • Accuracy in predicting the top ten teams making the playoffs was no worse than 60% at any given time – and as high as 90% accurate by week 25.

Closing Thoughts:

  • The CPWP Index, and the sub-indices for team attacking and defending, show great value in looking to understand where failure/success may be occurring relative to team results.
  • It’s evidence – one piece of evidence – that shareholders should pay attention to when looking to make changes – it is not a substitute for what the eye sees or the gut feels.
  • I know more can be offered in drilling down into individual statistics relative to these team statistics.

Best, Chris

You can follow me on twitter @Chrisgluckpwp.

COPYRIGHT – All Rights Reserved.  PWP – Trademark

Through the Looking Glass – Defending the MLS Cup

First and foremost – No rest for the wicked.

portland-timbers-mls-cup

Today, for your consideration, is my view on how this next season begins. As much as I want to share some thoughts with you about how this season just ended there have been many before me who have already done a great job doing that. For me, when you are a Champion, there is no yesterday, it’s all about tomorrow…

The trail of transactions began quickly, on December 7th, Monday past, around 10 minutes past five in the evening the Timbers made a number of announcements about their playing roster for next year.

Along the way we’ve heard confirmation about Jorge Villafana, rumor and propaganda about Will Johnson, as well as knowing that both Rodney Wallace and Ben Zemanski are being offered bonafide contracts.

Jorge Villafana – When I first saw him playing for Chivas USA a couple of years ago he stood out to me as being the best player on that team. He showed vision, the right mentality, first touch, quickness, passing skills, and an intuition to be in the right place at the right time. Throughout the course of this season Jorge has, in my view, been the most consistent player on the pitch. Is it any wonder that his performance was touted as being “Man of the Match like” in the MLS Championship Cup? If you ever listened to the Rose City Soccer Show you know my views on Jorge. So for me… I will be sorry (very selfishly disappointed) to see him go and he will leave some inordinately large boots to fill on the pitch. If there is anything of concern, as the Timbers look to build anew for next season, it’s getting someone to replace Jorge Villafana! And the player most likely to miss Jorge Villafana the most is Liam Ridgewell!

Will Johnson – The right player joining the Timbers at the right time to help set the stage for Caleb Porter and his philosophical approach to the game. I am sorry to see him go, yet through the course of this season as well as last year (even after his injury) there were times when I watched the Timbers and thought – the chemistry or balance of the team isn’t right – the Timbers would do well in some instances and then go all pear-shaped in other instances. I don’t specifically blame Will Johnson for this (it’s a team game) but I do sense that the imbalance changed considerably when Darlington Nagbe was moved into the center of the pitch and Diego Chara was given the singular role in the single pivot. I wish him nothing but the very best as he looks to find a new home for his family. In terms of finding a direct replacement for Will Johnson, I don’t see the specific need in his case – not because you don’t want a player with his mentality – you do – but since we’ve seen a bonafide contract offer for Ben Zemanski the Timbers still have four solid central defending midfielders – and with roster limits and salary cap type issues it simply doesn’t seem reasonable to have five CDM’s that could start.

With those thoughts offered on Jorge and Will where are the gaps the Timbers are likely to try and close this off-season?

Defense – You can’t win a championship without defense! Whoever comes in to replace Villafana, be it an internal player or someone who’s currently external to the organization, you can bet their primary focus will be to learn how to play a supporting role in both the single and double pivot.

  • Alvas Powell – He’s done well this year in getting a better understanding on positional play – when he stops having to rely (specifically on his speed) to shut down an attacker he will truly have blossomed – hopefully that transition occurs this next year!
  • Nat Borchers – While I view Jorge Villafana as the most consistent player on the Timbers this year there can be much argument that Nat Borchers was as well. And it’s likely Liam Ridgewell can thank Nat Borchers for much of his own success as Jorge Villafana. If there was ever a truly superb acquisition last off season it was bringing in Nat Borchers; the bearded one, while a bit aged it must be said, did more than his fair share in being in the right place at the right time to save, or score, a goal or two.
  • Liam Ridgewell – Here’s where I’m a bit squishy. To be fair Liam has done well this year but to be honest I think his success is more about the success of those around him than him personally. Yes, it takes a stolid presence and grist-driven skill to play center-back but I wonder how he will perform as Borchers gets a year older and Jorge gets replaced. If there is an Achilles heal with the Timbers defense I think it’s in the left center-back position; I’m sure there are many who will disagree.
  • Taylor Peay – The youngster has done well this year in spot starts and if it wasn’t for Jorge Villafana leaving so quickly I’d almost offer Taylor might be a likely candidate to begin learning a bit about playing center-back. That may be a stretch for some but he’s pretty good moving laterally and his awareness continues to improve. For me that’s two critical assets a center-back needs to go along with good passing skills and a bit of pace.
  • Norberto Paparatto – While I’m not surprised Norberto had his contract declined there may be movement afoot to resign him. He did well this year in his own spot starts and as many have pointed out I don’t think the Timbers lost a game when he started. Perhaps more to follow with Norberto?

Defensive Gaps:

Even if Norberto Paparatto is resigned I would still offer the Timbers will have a gap at center-back. does Anthony Manning continue to develop? What about Taylor Peay, does he have the nous to begin learning the craft?

As previously noted there will be a HUGE gap at the fullback position; perhaps even more so with Jeanderson leaving as well? He didn’t show good grist when called upon to play against Philadelphia and since Taylor Peay showed well – with roughly the same amount of preparation/development time it is likely he doesn’t return. I wonder about Ben Zemanski prehaps filling this role; he has been tried here previously and his mentality, pace and passing skills are definitely up to scratch. Plus the CDM position already has Jack Jewsbury or George Fochive waiting in the wings too.

And while this article has been in draft awaiting final editing the Timbers have secured Chris Klute (pronounced Kloo tee) to try and close this gap…

Midfield – Transition from attacking to defending isn’t always about short passes. There’s as much for a midfielder to do when a team plays direct versus ground-based attacking. The tactics are slightly different but it all really comes down to first touch, turning, and passing. Whether that ball comes to you off a rebound, second chance deflection, or via a teammate passing you the ball doesn’t matter. You still need a great first touch, vision, stamina, turning, and passing skills.

  • Darlington Nagbe is maturing into a box-to-box midfielder who has superb skills where the sky is the limit – but so is playing time. Darlington will have to juggle three primary playing demands next year; playing the MLS Regular Season, the CCL, AND…….. (it’s about bloody time) the US Men’s National Team. How Darlington, and the Timbers organization balance those minutes will be huge; he’s in his prime and he’s a critical piece to this team as they look to defend the cup.
  • Diego Valeri continues to show his mettle on the pitch, like Villafana and Nagbe he has a boot full of skills and if/when the Timbers operate at their best he’s probably more of the dangerous counterfoil to Darlington as opposed to the leader of those two now. It’s hard to imagine saying that at this time but in my view the move of Darlington, to the middle of the pitch, has been exactly what the doctor ordered to give Diego some respite from being leveraged so much he might have been more ineffective than effective; others may disagree.
  • Rodney Wallace is not really touted as a midfielder but he is. He has just as much responsibility in attacking as he does defending. While Rodney doesn’t have the deft balls skills like Darlington and Diego he makes up for that in miles traveled. And with the Timbers making him a bona-fide contract offer for next year it’s likely the Timbers are very much committed to having him stay with the team. If he were to turn down that offer it’s likely the Timbers would shop just a feverishly for a player to replace his skills as a player to replace those of Jorge Villafana.
  • Dairon Asprilla is beginning to show to others. While it may have taken some time for him to settle into a specific role on the right side of the pitch his participation in games is just as much about what he personally brings to the team as what his presence allows others to bring to the game – namely Darlington Nagbe. I would argue that if Dairon Asprilla didn’t have the right mix of talent we may never have seen Nagbe move to the center of the pitch! That said his ability to show mettle on both sides of the pitch is just as valuable to Alvas Powell as Wallace’s ability to run the left side.

Midfield Gaps:

An attacking central midfielder to take on the role of Darlington Nagbe or Diego Valeri; preferably someone who’s a bit more box-to-box than Diego Valeri.

An midfield winger – preferably someone who’s a bit more savvy with their foot skills than Rodney Wallace; as noted Rodney has done well this year – but he struggles in making space for himself – Dairon does not.

Forward – A position where a player usually has the least amount of touches but perhaps the greatest amount of influence in the result.

  • Fenando Adi has made great strides this year and I personally know that the Timbers have made considerable effort in helping Fenando expand his skill set. He’s truly a bruising #9 who’s just as powerful on the turn as he is with the lateral run when looking for crosses or through-balls. Like everyone else in the attacking side of the pitch he’s gained considerable value with the presence of Darlington Nagbe in the middle. You always want your #9 to have space in front of them when their back is to the goal – the options made available become nearly 360 degrees as opposed to roughly 90 degrees… the greater Fenando’s field of vision the more dangerous he becomes.
  • Lucas Melano is, in my view, still a raw talent. But he is a talent. How that translates next year remains unclear. In my view he’s not ready to crack the first five in attack. Yes, he started in the Championship, and yes he offered the game winning cross but the tenor of the game very much worked towards a low block and while Lucas did well he was eventually replaced by Dairon when the short hairs got itchy.

Forward Gaps:

Another traditional #9 – while Fenando Adi continues to develop he simply can’t play every game and the Timbers will need to rely on another forward, with a skill set somewhat similar to Adi, in order to succeed in both the CCL and MLS. Even more so with the expanded attacking flexibility in being able to run a single or double pivot midfield.
A poacher with speed, quick feet and a great first touch – do you call that player a #8 or #10? It doesn’t really matter. If Maxi Urruti is released and not resigned then a player who could kinda do what Maxi could do but maybe faster may be a worthy team addition??? Perhaps this positional gap is also somewhat of the same positional gap that an attacking midfielder might fill???

Goalkeeping – The position where, hopefully, they do have the fewest touches in a game but perhaps the most influence in the outcome. We only have to recall the Cup game to know that…

Adam Kwarasey and Jake Gleeson – Both these guys are quality keepers and the Timbers should be in good stead for goal keeping next year. I’d like to offer a bit more here but goalkeeping is such a unique soccer skill set that I’d probably do those two players a dis-service by offering more.

Goalkeeping Gaps:

None – Well they will need a third keeper but I wouldn’t expect a gap given these two guys.

Where do you think the Timbers will have gaps they’ll need to fill working from assumptions/expectations that:

  1. The Timbers will look to defend their Cup with as much grist as possible.
  2. The Timbers will look to advance, with no holds barred, as far as possible in the CCL.
  3. The Timbers will look to advance, with no holds barred, as far as possible in the US Open Cup.
  4. Darlington Nagbe, Rodney Wallace, and Alvas Powell will all miss time with the team due to national call ups.
Best, Chris

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!

 

 

 

The Ride Continues – Timbers MLS Championship Run

TIFO

“The atmosphere in Providence Park is the best atmosphere in MLS” – attributed to Brad Freidel

Wow – what a game and what a season so far!

We’ve seen some pretty remarkable events this last year – suffering an all time low with a crushing 5-nil loss to LA Galaxy in June and then a diametrically opposed (perhaps best ever) 5-2 victory against the very same LA Galaxy not four months later…   parity anyone?

So where do we stand today?

Just one game, one tactically sound game, from advancing to the MLS Championship…

Asprilla

It’s worth a look again!  Dairon Asprilla’s rope.

Okay, that said, it’s time to move on…

There’s a job to do and it isn’t finished; cinch the ropes a bit tighter and go for another ride.

In mounting that bull recall this one word that has best described MLS this year – parity…

Yes, the very same word that applied to the Timbers getting into this position is the very same word we should consider as this weekend approaches.

Don’t be misled by that 3-1 win… FC Dallas are a dangerous team, a very dangerous team.

And in understanding that, Caleb Porter has much to consider in how he sets the tone and tenor of his team this week.

I’d offer there are some very tough questions he and his staff will be asking themselves as they prepare.

Diego Valeri

Does Diego Valeri start?  

While many, if not most, probably don’t think this is a worthy question I do.

If Diego Valeri doesn’t start Caleb probably runs with the same eleven that got him the three goals and the win this past weekend (relying on the old adage that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it).

On the other hand Diego Valeri is… well… one of the best players in a Timbers uniform.  So – to be realistic – it’s likely Diego Valeri starts.

Caleb Porter

In considering that, how does that change the midfield with respect to running a single pivot versus double pivot?

This is a tricky question because the maturity of Darlington Nagbe (in playing box-to-box) kinda means the addition of Diego Valeri doesn’t mean Caleb is overtly committing to 5 attackers.  For me it really means Darlington Nagbe kinda takes on a quasi Jack Jewsbury/Will Johnson/Diego Valeri role.

Nagbe Bags a Whale of a Goal

In other words he leverages his skills as a great passer, with a great first touch, plus he uses his innate ability to turn and make space for himself (as well as others) while also showing improved recovery capabilities in addition to better vision from a deeper position; recall those through-balls he offered to Lucas Melano in the first 15-20 minutes.

What the change to a single pivot really means, for me, is a slightly different workload for Diego Chara.

Chara

How is it different?

I’m not sure I can completely scratch the itch on this one given I don’t know the in-depth tactics but it appeared to me that both Diego Chara and Jack Jewsbury had a rotating leadership role in closing down the wings when Dallas penetrated the final third.

Who lead that initial response looked to me to depend on which player was best situated.  In other words if Jack was deeper and closer to the area being penetrated he closed down first; if Diego was closest he responded first.

Whoever was second took the role of managing the space around the corners or middle of the 18 yard box as well as providing direct support if the other player got beaten.

With Jewsbury off the pitch, and Darlington Nagbe usually working a little bit further up the pitch, it means Diego Chara will probably have the lead on closing down no matter which side of the pitch is penetrated.

This, in turn, probably means Diego will have more of a sustain and contain role as opposed to trying to regain possession at the earliest opportunity.

That sustain and contain role then allows Wallace/Melano/Asprilla/Nagbe to then take on the secondary response role that Jewsbury would normally be asked to do.

So in going back to try and answer the question on running a single pivot versus double pivot it gets even more complicated as the wingers are likely to have a different role as well.

Which leads to this question.

Lucas Melano

Does Lucas Melano start in lieu of Rodney Wallace?

Before answering the question I think it’s worthy to note the value Melano added in attacking and defending without knowing his prescribed role last game.

All told he made some superb penetrating runs and provided good support in defending behind the ball – not a bad game even though he had another great opportunity to score.

Bottom line is Lucas used his strengths to create and make space for others while also adding value in applying some forward pressure that lead to a poor pass by Dallas, which in turn led to that golazo by Asprilla; sometimes the success of a player is not measured by goals but by how he helps create and make space for others to score goals.

That said we still need to try and answer the question… 

For me, if Caleb runs the single pivot Rodney Wallace gets the head nod – if Jack Jewsbury starts in lieu of Diego Valeri then Lucas Melano gets the head nod.

Is it as simple as that?   Probably not, but with Asprilla/Nagbe/Wallace/Melano all having increased defensive responsibilities with the single pivot, and Diego comes in to add a player who is more attack minded than defensive minded, it really kinda means Wallace is more likely to start given he shows a bit more grist in defending.

Said another way – Caleb needs to sustain a balance in attacking and defending; that balance is more attack minded with both Melano and Valeri on the pitch; so…..  Rodney should get the call as it’s likely Diego Valeri starts.

Liam Ridgewell

Is Liam Ridgewell injured and can he play?

I don’t have the answer to that but here’s what I would offer.

If Ridgewell is slightly injured, and there is a chance he might have to be subbed given a recurrence of that injury, I’d offer serious consideration is given that he doesn’t start.

That may not be the popular move but if you, as a Head Coach, can save a substitution for a game state not intended, then going with the known is usually better than going with the unknown.

In closing:

In circling back to FC Dallas – they remain a dangerous team.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Oscar Pareja flip which sides Castillo and Barrios attack from to show a different look in attack.

Dallas love to penetrate the wings and create opportunities for cut-back passes into open space atop or around the corners of the 18 yard box or penalty spot.

And if they weren’t successful in doing that with Barrios on the left side last game it seems reasonable they’ll try him on the right side this game.

Bottom line here, for the Timbers, it’s all about managing the space and time when FC Dallas have the ball – figure defense first with a tangible attack that creates solid opportunities to score goals.

Have a great thanksgiving weekend and get ready to ride the bull again!

If interested here’s some additional thoughts on the Timbers match against Dallas as part of the Yellowcarded Podcast.

Finally, here’s more thoughts on this game from myself, Kip Kesgard, and Will Conwell and our Rose City Soccer Show.

Best, Chris

Vancouver and beyond???

While the result, and how that result was achieved, will certainly not be lost on the soccer world I do feel and think there is a cause for concern to consider as the Timbers prepare for Vancouver, and beyond, this Sunday.

Lucas Melano

The decision to replace Lucas Melano with George Fochive in the 85th minute.

As a caveat, this view is not intended to be a player-specific critic – but more about the general team performance (reaction) given the substitution, what might be drawn from it, and how the impact of that substitution might influence decisions made as the playoff run continues.

And no – no heat maps or passing charts – you need video analysis for this assessment.

In watching the overall tenor of the game (before and after the 85th minute) I’d say the ability of Sporting to possess and penetrate was better, not worse, after George Fochive came on.

George Fochive

And for most of us this shouldn’t be  a surprise.

Throughout the course of this season the Timbers have played somewhat deeper (ceding possession) in working a double-pivot tactical strategy that plays more to counter-attacking than possession-based attacking.

This approach has been a two-edged sword; usually the opponent comes away without scoring a goal, but alas, so it also goes for the Timbers.

That said, unfortunately, we have seen some teams win – and win big – (Philadelphia, FC Dallas, and LA Galaxy come to mind).

So should we really be surprised that Sporting got the equalizer near stoppage time and a second goal in extra time?

I don’t think so, and that remains a cause of concern for me as the Timbers move forward against Vancouver, and beyond.

First off – I sense it is reasonable to expect that over the course of a season, when playing one basic tactical approach, players will develop patterns of behavior (on field habits) that they’ll play to, regardless of some finite, tactical adjustments made by the head coach during the game.

In addition, it’s my belief that the tactical move to replace Melano had a negative impact on Darlington Nagbe’s ability to influence the game – if the Timbers are working towards more attacking, and possession-based ball movement with five attackers, then it stands to reason they’ll be doing less of that with four attackers.

Meaning Sporting is going to have more of the ball.

So, when you’re up one goal with less than 15 minutes to go, at home, do you really want to set the conditions for the opponent to tactically, by default, and through general pattern of behaviour, have more of the ball?  Not really…

In thinking about this game it brings to mind an example of what I mean.

Recall the devastating draw the US Men’s National Team had with Portugal in the 2014 World Cup.

Jurgen Klinsmann made (in my view) a decision that was also cause for concern, that many missed.

He pulled Graham Zusi and replaced him with Omar Gonzalez – in other words he pulled an attacking midfield player, on the left side, and replaced him with a central defender.

This decision meant (tactically) the US Men’s National Team had no-one occupying, and therefore defending, the same exact zone where Ronaldo delivered the cross that got Portugal the equalizer.

Almost the exact same thing happened last night…

Melano got pulled and replaced with Fochive.

In turn, after the initial corner ball was cleared (to the zone one might expect Melano to patrol after a defensive clearance) Zusi delivered an equalizing cross where he was under absolutely no pressure – he had clear time and space to deliver his cross just like Ronaldo had against the US Men’s National Team!

But the real issue here isn’t that specific example, it’s bigger than that and also cause for concern; especially if this (up one goal) scenario occurs again.

So while all the hoopla goes towards the stunning, and heart stopping result, of yesterday Caleb Porter has much to consider.

For me, I think it’s worthy that the Timbers will be conducting some in-depth video analysis to better understand (throughout the entire game) how the impact (and influence) that Melano had on the game compared and contrasted with the impact (and influence) Fochive had on the game.

And I don’t mean with respect to the individual player’s and their execution but with respect to the overall tenor of team performance, in attacking and defending, for both Portland and Kansas City.

Bottom line here:

The game had a great scoreline, with the players and tactics used up to the 85th minute.  Did the change in tactics (with that player substitution) alter the construct of the game enough to create a condition where Sporting may have been more likely to score a goal?

I think it did but my view isn’t the one that matters.  So as an analyst – I would submit that question needs to be asked – and I sense Caleb will do that.

In closing:

Perhaps another, less talked about decision, was Caleb Porter’s decision to open in a single-pivot.

For me, that sets the stage on his intent to continue with that approach, as a first choice option; others may view that differently.

And while I think and feel that is a very reasonable path forward, in battling the teams who like to counter-attack, I also think it’s sets the stage for future player decisions.

By that I mean, if you run (by choice) a single-pivot, do you really need five central defending midfielders on your roster?

And can you sustain a reasonable attacking path forward with just two players (Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri) who can command the attacking responsibilities associated with that approach?

I’d say no…

So all the while the playoffs are happening there oughta be someone in the front office looking at attacking central midfielders to shore up what appears to be a very good tactical shift on the part of Caleb Porter.

Best, Chris

 

 

 

Portland Timbers and the MLS Playoffs

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

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

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

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

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

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

First off 2013:

End of Season 2013 MLS Coaching Changes

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

A couple of other thoughts while looking back at 2013:

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

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

CPWP STRATEGIC INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 COMBINED

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

A couple of other thoughts while looking back at 2014:

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

Now to 2015:

MLS Week 33 CPWP Index

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

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

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

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

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

Third – What was the second half speech about?

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

Opinion:  

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

Liam Ridgewell

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

Jorge Villafana

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

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

Nagbe Bags a Whale of a Goal

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

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

Best, Chris