My thanks to everyone who has supported my web site the last four years!
It’s been a learning experience for me and, I hope, for you too.
As the new year starts I’ve got at least five new articles planned; here’s a quick synopsis on what to expect:
- Following up on Coaching Youth Soccer Part I and Coaching Youth Soccer Part II, I’ll be offering Coaching Youth Soccer Part III – digging into which team statistics to use, why, when, and how to use them. For those who don’t know me these three articles highlight my coaching philosophy into one three word catchphrase “muscle memory mentality“.
- Two new individual soccer statistics: This (may?) be controversial – My intent is to submit two new, professional level, individual, soccer statistics that could transform the player market value system.
Said differently; are private statistics companies, like Prozone Sports, OPTA, and InStat (along with player agents) manipulating the player market value system by ignoring what might be the most logical, intuitive, individual soccer statistics ever?
- Expected Points – An updated version of my previously created Expected Wins series of articles. A follow on to what was offered at the World Conference on Science & Soccer 2017, Rennes, France.
- Expected Goals – A new way to calculate this over-hyped soccer statistic that brings it a bit closer to reality.
- World Cup 2018 Total Soccer Index; to include predicting the winners after round one is complete.
For now, in case you missed one or two, here’s my rundown on the top five articles in each of the last four years.
- World Conference on Science & Soccer 2014 – a power point presentation of what I offered as a guest speaker at this prestigious event. #2 All Time.
- Is European Football Really Higher Quality than Major League Soccer – a look at possession with purpose across Europe as compared to MLS. #5 All Time.
- On Fire – or Can’t Hold a Candle – Are Chicago Fire Burning at Both Ends – a look at Chicago Fire in 2014 and their woes in not winning.
- Possession with Purpose Revised Introduction – my second update to PWP; the most accurate, publicly generated soccer index. #1 All Time.
- Major League Soccer – Week 25 – Portland Finally Show Up
- Possession with Purpose Revised Introduction – two years running in the top five.
- Busting the Myth of Moneyball in Soccer Statistics – my take on the flawed reasoning that individual statistics actually add great value in evaluating player effectiveness. #6 All Time.
- Redefining and Modernizing total Shots Ratio – Debunking TSR – note this statistic has now been shoved to the side. #8 All Time.
- World Conference on Science & Soccer 2014 – two years running in the top five.
- Is European Football Really Higher Quality than Major League Soccer – two years running in the top five.
- US Soccer – Improving College Soccer in the United States – peeling back issues with College Soccer – a topic with a very high visibility rate now. #4 All Time.
- Moneyball 2 – Soccer Statistics Taking it to the Next Level – thoughts and ideas about the next iteration of individual soccer statistics. #7 All Time.
- Training Soccer in America – God Smackingly Obvious Or is It – my first article highlighting my frustrations with US Soccer Youth Development – a topic with a very high visibility rate now.
- Busting the Myth of Moneyball in Soccer Statistics – two years running in the top five.
- Possession with Purpose Revised Introduction – three years running in the top five.
- Porter Pulls out of Portland – Caleb Porter resigns. #3 All Time.
- Updated Possession with Purpose – four years running. Update includes a revision to my Total Soccer Index. Two new algorithmic revisions have the correlation (r) to points earned in the league table exceeding ‘goal differential’; the benchmark statistic of modern day soccer.
- Getting Hot in Portland – On a poor run, Portland Timbers head coach, Caleb Porter publicly humiliates some of his players during post game press conferences – the first article in America projecting he may be out by the end of the season.
- Portland Timbers hire Gio Savarese – Caleb Porter’s replacement; no frills from an MLS shill here – let’s wait till the end of year 1 before drawing any conclusions or over-hyping what he offers.
- It’s not just US Soccer that Needs to Wipe the Slate Clean – The first article offered in the US Soccer media environment that publicly slams mainstream soccer media for inadequate journalism – a topic with a very high visibility rate now.
- I called for Jurgen Klinsmann to be sacked after WC 2014 because his tactics and in-game adjustments weren’t up to snuff. Three years later the rest of the american mainstream soccer media world agreed and Klinsmann was sacked.
- I called for Sunil Gulati to be ‘ousted’ after WC 2014 because his leadership in helping youth development and head coach selection weren’t up to snuff. Three years later the rest of the american mainstream soccer media world agreed and Gulati is out.
- In hindsight – I wonder where we’d be in youth soccer development if we’d have made those decisions three years ago?
- No, I do not favor Caleb Porter as the next US Men’s National Team head coach. I like Caleb, he’s a stand-up guy and always took time to share and listen. That said, in my opinion, he’s not (consistently) good enough at reading in game situations and making tactical adjustments that lead to better performances; the exact same issue I had with Jurgen Klinsmann. .
- I’m hopeful either Eric Wynalda or Steve Gans are elected as the next United States Soccer Federation President; electing Kathy Carter is a NO-GO in my view as there’s perceived ‘collusion’ between MLS and SUM. As a retired Air-Force veteran perception is reality until proven otherwise – some may disagree?
I wish you all the best for the new year.
The Portland Timbers have opened their season no different than the four previous seasons under Caleb Porter – on their back foot. But is there something different about this years’ team that may cause one to wonder how this season ends?
Here’s why – and yes it’s down to statistics. At no time in the previous history of the Timbers have they started so low when it comes to statistical team performance. Evidence for your consideration is provided below:
Note this is big picture – what I feel and think the senior leaders should be viewing to get a feel for how the Timbers are working, as a team, versus the quality and quantity behind those numbers. Have no fear I’ll get there too.. Let’s not kid ourselves – the Timbers have access to this information and much more – so this shouldn’t be new news to the Timbers front office; it should be an early warning sign of a potential earthquake that could shake the foundation of this team.
For now let’s take a look at what this data offers…
So with those big picture stats offered – here’s some deeper grist for grinding the teeth if you’re a Timbers supporter:
Passing volume in total:
Passes outside the attacking final third:
Passes within and into the attacking final third:
Shots on goal:
Percentage of passes within and into the attacking final third:
Percentage of shots taken per completed pass within and into the attacking final third:
Percentage of shots on goal per shots taken:
Percentage of goals scored per shots on goal:
I don’t dig into this part of possession with purpose too much as it’s more relative to betting than anything else. But I do think it’s worthy to show others what the Timbers predictability index offers.
As a reminder the PWP Predictability Index is the PWP Index (minus) all activities relative to a goal scored – a real prediction model does not use the projected end-state data to predict the future end-state – it uses the data leading up to the end-state to predict the future end-state. So all those who track Expected Goals – it’s not a prediction model at all…
Now the tough questions:
Or……… Is Caleb Porter really just tinkering as he prepares the Timbers for CCL and the stretch run through the hot part of the season?
Or……… Is Caleb Porter human, like the rest of us, and he’s scratching his head as much as we are about what isn’t working this year that worked previously?
As a previous youth head coach and general manager I think it’s a little of both – there are times, early in the season, at any level, where it’s worthy to try out different things. An offshoot on doing that is the team gets to gel and work out kinks that are likely to help them take more points as the season progresses – or in the case of the Timbers – not only help them make the top six in the Western Conference but also help them in CCL.
That said I do think it’s worthy to bring up one point about this year versus last year – Jorge Villafana is missing.
I don’t say this to personally dig anyone this year – instead two diagrams for your consideration – on how I think last year is different from this year:
Left fullback area in red for last year – a no go spot for most teams in attack – i.e. where Portland was inordinately strong in defending. Ther ewere games last year where Jorge Villafana had virtually no defensive touches in a game – this year the left fullback position cannot say the same.
So with the opponent now having a complete width of the pitch to use the Timbers defense is stretched – not unnaturally compared to any other team – but unnaturally compared to last years’ team…
And that’s why I think their is considerable cause for concern this year – the Timbers simply don’t have the shut down capability on either wing to decrease the size of the attacking space the opponent has available. And with that normal size of space the opponents are now getting better shots on goal.
Path forward – with Jorge Villafana out I am stead
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.
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:
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.
Major League Soccer nears the All Star break and most teams have reached the mid-point in games played.
From top to bottom here’s the latest on MLS team performance in possession, passing accuracy, penetration, creation, precision, and finishing.
Being the best in just one of those categories does not mean you are the best in total team performance.
Click here: Major League Soccer PWP Total Soccer Index
I’m sure some think my promoting the accuracy and value of this Index is arrogance – it’s not arrogance when you’re right – it’s confidence.
Ironic? An epithet created by the Timbers Army, which had sincere meaning in the playoffs last year, might have even more meaning this year.
The Path Long, The Way Unknown, You are the mapmakers.
Caleb Porter is out and Gio Savarese is in.
In case you missed it – my thoughts on why Caleb left Porter Pulls out of Portland.
Last week I mentioned I’d give Gio Savarese a year before offering thoughts – for me it’s worthy to give him a chance to settle in before setting expectations.
But alas, my good friend Steven Lenhart (Nevets) called me ‘an old man sitting at the end of the bar’ because I wouldn’t offer an opinion.
Here’s what I’ve heard so far; Gio Savarese:
- creates a great locker room environment,
- has an understanding of tactics and setting his teams up to play different formations based upon his player’s availability or the opponent’s style of play,
- has an understanding in the value of controlled possession-based soccer,
- has an ability to read the game, as it’s being played, making tactical adjustments and/or substitutions that maximize the opportunity to earn points.
That’s a lot of strengths, perhaps in some areas where there may have been weaknesses under the leadership of Porter?
So far I’ve heard nothing negative, maybe that’s a good thing?
If you want a strong dose of positive hyperbole take some time to read this from Dave Martinez as a contributor to MLS.
Personally I wouldn’t call coaching in MLS as being at the top of the soccer pyramid but that’s just me.
Anyhow, stepping off my soap box – for me I’m not going to offer anything negative or positive about Gio Savarese, I can’t.
I’ve never watched a game he’s managed and I’ve never spoken with him… so the pat answer, based on how I’ve been raised, is “let’s wait and see”.
But to scratch Nevet’s itch, I’ll offer these thoughts that (may?) balance expectations a bit more.
- Major League Soccer is not the North American Soccer League; it’s a fully functioning league that has a strong foothold across the country.
- Across the pitch the level of technical skills and mentality of players is higher in MLS; said differently, the amount of mistakes (both technical and mental) are fewer in MLS than NASL.
- The length of the season is longer in MLS and there’s no mid-season break to reassess.
- The schedule is un-balanced in MLS.
- Good or bad, Portland plays Vancouver and Seattle three times a year – no other derby in MLS has three stronger teams playing against each other three times.
- With the departure of Chivas USA there are no ‘soccer mules’ in MLS – yes there are some weaker teams but those weaknesses don’t really become apparent until a third of the season is completed.
- Controlled possession based soccer is not a popular style for most teams in MLS; for the most part teams can’t afford to have those higher skilled players on the pitch.
- MLS screams of parity, NASL doesn’t.
- The home team, in the last four years, wins about 66% of the time.
- We don’t know who Gio’s assistant coaches will be.
- When you’re a head coach having assistants who speak your thoughts (maybe with different words) is critical to your success – especially when working muscle memory mentality.
- Also critical to coaching success is having at least one assistant who thinks differently than you, as the head coach. Surrounding yourself with people who think like you is folly – a balance in leadership is just as critical as a balance in style of play.
Those thoughts (may?) not scratch the itch but maybe my first point of evaluation on Gio will.
If the loan agreement of Lucas Melano allows it, I’d expect Lucas Melano to be at spring training this coming year.
Caleb failed to get the best out of Lucas for one reason or another and the Timbers look to have wasted a considerable sum of money on him.
Here’s what I offered about Lucas Melano some time ago.
If Gio can reverse that, and get Lucas to add value, then it’s a success for Lucas, the team, the front office, and Gio. A win-win-win-win…. there is no downside.
If it doesn’t work you’re where you are today; a lesson learned on how not to scout and sign a player.
I know if I were in Gio Savarese’s shoes I’d certainly want to test my (and my teams’) mettle/ability to get the best out of Lucas; it’d be rude not to.
However viewed, when opening day comes we’ll see (and hear) the Timbers Army (and everyone else) give Gio Savarese a spine tingling roar of support.
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:
- 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.
- 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
- 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?
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.
Is this a likely pre-cursor to the MLS Championship Game?
I’m not sure, but given the wild west, and more predictable east, it isn’t beyond reason to think so. In preparing my information for your consideration here’s a link to my Total Soccer Index:
The Science (Attacking):
Toronto at home compared with Portland on the road.
The part of Possession with Purpose that stands out first is ‘penetration’.
- Out of an equal amount of possession and passing accuracy for both teams Toronto shows a greater (much greater) edge in penetration; the difference is striking; almost 20% more penetration per total possession than Portland.
- That considerable advantage in increased penetration leads to a 10% increase in the precision (putting shots on goal) followed by another 10% increase in finishing.
- Twenty six goals scored at home for Toronto vs seventeen goals scored on the road for Portland. Not only is Toronto’s quality better; their quantity is too…
It is likely Toronto will penetrate more often and offer up more shots than Portland – meaning a reasonable game plan for Portland will be to cede some space up top (maybe after the first 15 minutes) and then look to clog the middle and defensive third of the pitch.. relying solely on the counter-attack to get a goal, or two…
The Science (Defending):
Like the attacking side of the equation; the part of Possession with Purpose that stands out first on how opponents attack against these two teams is penetration.
- Out of equal amounts of possession and passing accuracy by opponents Portland shows opponents have greater amounts of penetration.
- Opponents of Portland see a 10% increase in precision (shots on goal) and a 20% increase in finishing (goals scored against) than Toronto opponents.
- All told opponents have scored 23 goals against Portland, versus just seven for Toronto.
- Portland opponents see an increase in quality as well as quantity; matching exactly the characteristics of how Toronto attacks at home!
It would appear penetration is the key for both teams… therefore, trying to regain possession of the ball in the attacking and middle third will be crucial in order to disable a quick counter-attack when the ball is lost.
As much as it pains me to offer this – Bradley is known for coughing up the ball in the middle third of the pitch – I’d expect both David Guzman or Diego Chara to pressure Bradley whenever he has the ball.
Bottom line: If Portland scores (at all) they will REALLY need to protect that lead and that includes protecting the wings from overload by Toronto.
Total Soccer Index: Final Thoughts
If you’re a betting person – it’s likely Toronto win by at least one goal – if not two… but as we’ve seen this year “parity” rules in this league.
And even though the eastern conference seems to show greater strength in possession with purpose competitive conditions of the wild west may better suit Portland in a game like this.
Questions: It’s the fantastic four of both teams that will make the difference in the run of play.
- How well will Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore, Victor Vazquez, and Michael Bradley work against a healthy Timbers defense?
- Can Toronto’s defense control the attacking nous of Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe, and Sebastian Blanco along with the physically brutal aspect Fenando Adi brings as a true #9?
Set pieces win games…
The magic of one player, with one touch, that leads to one strike, and one brilliant goal awaits… as Diego Valeri, like set pieces, wins games too…
You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckpwp
Re-tweets are not rude… 🙂
This time it’s about the weather; record temperatures in Portland this week are forcing the Timbers vs Galaxy match to kick-off at 11 AM ‘left coast of America time’ and it should be a doozy…
Here’s my take using my new publication format, for your consideration.
If you’re part of the Portland Timbers supporter-base or football organization this (should?) be a picture out your rearview mirror – not a vision on what’s ahead.
As noted by Porter in his latest post-game presser – there’s been some bullets flying… part of them their own making…
For me, even in defeat against Real Salt Lake, the most positive takeaway has been the open discussion about organizational failure – not individual player failure – when results didn’t go well. You win as a team – you lose as a team; professional or not…
Unlike some, I don’t think you ever forget that game against Real Salt Lake; you remember it, embrace it, and never-ever dismiss what it felt like to be so humiliated by that horrible team performance.
The next phase – let’s call it the “final attacking third” (math?) sees the Timbers with six games at home and six on the road. The most important game is the next game.
Houston: A team who’s been unbeaten at home this year.
As shown last weekend – when counted out – the Timbers aren’t out…
Any team, in any position in the league table, can beat any other team in this league… that may be disappointing to those who like to bet on a sure-thing but for those who thrive on second-chance football (another phrase for parity?) it’s great.
Porter has some guys returning – to include David Guzman, Alvas Powell, Darren Mattocks and Darlington Nagbe. As for Farfan, Vytas, and Ridgewell I don’t know…
I’d like to see Darlington Nagbe get a rest after the Gold Cup final but I’m not seeing that happen; I’d offer there’s too much at stake to see him begin the game on the bench.
So for the first time (in how long Mike Donovan?) we’re likely to see Adi, along with Blanco, Valeri, and Nagbe as the front four… or as I like to think of it the top half of a Christmas tree…
Adi up top with Valeri and Blanco roaming left, right, and center, while Nagbe provides the (holding) glue between and amongst them and whichever fullback or central midfielder decides to penetrate forward.
I’d expect Porter to be very excited to have these four starting in attack.
But we know there’s many views about football – here’s some thoughts provided by members of the Timbers Army Northern Alliance:
I’d love to see us make a formation shift to play Adi and Ebobisse up top. Ebobisse worked for every ball, fought hard and he showed the power and vision that a high draft pick like himself is expected to exhibit. His speed and vision with, Adi’s size and power, is a tough combo to handle. The work ethic he displays is also infectious.
I’ll need to see a couple more games with the effort we put out Sunday to believe we can make a run this season. Was good to see a makeshift lineup pull one out and play with some heart, which we’ve been missing. You want consistency but maybe shaking it up and letting some of the younger players get some minutes will light a fire under the veterans.
Haven’t looked sharp for a while and getting to that point where I was a couple seasons ago when I was just waiting for the season to play out so I could start fresh and be excited again for the next year. Funny thing happened though, went on a roll late and won the cup.
No matter what we do, our back line is going to be relatively weak. Embrace it and invest in extra attack. You can’t take advantage of our weak back line if you’re scrambling to stop our attack for 90 minutes.
I really hope Caleb makes the whole squad watch the Vancouver game film. We had nowhere near our First XI, but the guys who were there fought hard and made Vancouver earn everything.
It wasn’t the prettiest game we’ve played and the set piece marking was pretty bad, but I can definitely get behind a team that plays with that much passion and heart.
Many worthy thoughts…
I can see Ebobisse being a solid option in attack (off the bench), more-so than Darren Mattocks?
I also like the added grist we’ve seen from Dairon Asprilla; especially on the defending side of the wing.
Others (may?) disagree but it seems Ben Zemanski is more settled this year – I don’t see the uncontrolled wandering/tackling we’ve often seen in the past; his improved play is not misconstrued.
The bench doesn’t look so bad now.
And with Ridgewell, Vytas, and Farfan due to return soon places on the bench will be very hard to come by. I didn’t sense that earlier this season.
Bottom line at the bottom.
You can’t continue to expect to win if you cede goals; when Timbers have the lead, especially on the road, I’d offer more purposeful possession is needed.
You don’t need to penetrate, with the intent to score a goal, every single time you have the ball; sustaining possession, with patient and purposeful penetration, adds great value.
Especially since it means the opponent doesn’t have the ball – if they don’t have the ball they can’t score goals.
You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckpwp
Retweets always welcomed…
Normally a headline like this could be attributed to the beginning of summer and the secret heat wave we experience in Portland, or… it could be attributed to Portland Timbers heating up for a mid-to-late season run like they did in 2015.
But no, today it’s about Caleb Porter and whether or not he’s in the hot seat.
Some might offer this isn’t a worthy discussion – I disagree.
Last year – a year where the Timbers gave away a record 53 goals against – is looking to be matched, if not eclipsed this year (28 goals against in 18 games).
As such, I felt it worthy to poll supporters in one of the many Timbers Army Facebook sites. I got a good variety of responses to this:
Reasonable question or not? Is Caleb Porter on the hot seat? What are your thoughts as I get ready to put pen to paper on this question.
Responses varied in scope to include:
- I love Caleb Porter and have defended him through the years says Wesley Halverson, but I think his seat is warm (not hot). I honestly think if we miss the playoffs he’s gone because that would be 2 playoff appearances in 5 years. In a league where over half the teams make the playoffs, that’s not good enough.
- Matt Devore added; I would agree it’s warm but getting warmer with each game. ….It’s a long season so there will be ups and downs but if you can’t be motivated at home against your biggest rival there are issues.
- Shelli Whitmarsh added, I think, regardless of specifics with Porter, sometimes a team needs a new coach with a fresh set of eyes and a willingness to challenge the status quo & shake things up.
- I’m generally loathe to start calling for a coaches job just because things aren’t going the greatest on the field says Steven Seibos. To me, the question is “Has Porter lost the team?”
- Hot seat, yes says Fernando Xavier, but why can’t our crack scouting team find valid CB’s in the off-season. Our drafts are busts, T2 is a mess. Is it CP or GW and MP micromanaging?
These only scratch the surface of discussion but I sense it’s of import to recognize there is no vitriol here; these are reasonable thoughts/questions from a well-educated fan-base.
First and foremost I always like to see what the data offers (science) and then leverage it, where appropriate, as I blend in my own personal experiences (art).
Below are four diagrams highlighting my Possession with Purpose analytical approach published last year in England. A general summary is provided for each year.
X Axis = Points Earned /// Y Axis = Games Played
Blue Dotted Line = Trend-line of Points/Game /// Red Dotted Line = Trend-line of PWP/Game
What’s this mean for 2017?
When you start out the season with three straight wins, and follow with a swoon of 2-6-3 in the last 11, you’re likely to see a drastic change in these curves.
What’s heartening (maybe) is an uptick in productivity starting after week 10 (dotted red line) when they lost 3-nil to San Jose.
Statistics, not provided, also show quality in attacking has helped keep Portland Timbers from free-falling this year. Their pace looks to match goals scored totals of 61 in 2014 but…
They are also on pace to match their goals against of 53 in 2016.
In both years they failed to make the playoffs.
Correlation: (relationship of the data to the league table)
Strong: Greater than .75 all four years. As points earned move up or down so to does the PWP index.
In other words the index is a good indicator/predictor and could be used to forecast future point totals.
As noted many times after putting together my analysis – you need to be good on both sides of the pitch in order to have success in soccer.
Takeaway on the science – if things continue trends lead me to believe Portland Timbers will not make the playoffs in 2017.
- Portland lost proposed starting right center-back, Gbenga Arokoyo, before the season started.
- Liam Ridgewell has been out for long stretches.
- Center-back (type) players added (Roy Miller, Lawrence Olum, and Amobi Okugo); none of which I’d classify as a prototypical center-back have provided inconsistent (but) spirited support.
- Larrys Mabiala, a true center-back, has arrived and is likely to see playing time mid-to-late July; too late?
- Alvas Powell and Zarek Valentin have played musical chairs on the right; Powell far more inconsistent that Valentin; weighing the balance of ‘nous’ versus ‘speed’ is hard.
- Jake Gleeson is a shot stopper and Jeff Attinella isn’t (for the most part).
- Attinella is good in distribution and Gleeson isn’t.
- Attinella is probably a better sweeper-keeper – like Adam Kwarasey.
- Gleeson reminds me of Donovan Ricketts.
- Portland Timbers won the league with a sweeper-keeper; not shot-stopper.
- David Guzman has been added as a partner to Diego Chara; that partnership seems to show well.
- Though I would offer with two destroyers on the pitch it now means opponents are twice as likely to earn a foul/free kick in the Timbers defending third than previous years.
- Sebastian Blanco has replaced the Much Maligned Lucas Melano and Dairon Asprilla has returned.
- Dairon adds value in attacking and some in defending.
- Sebastian adds value in attacking and some in defending.
- I’d offer both are the polar opposite of Rodney Wallace, who added value in defending and some in attacking.
- Portland Timbers won the league with some added value in attack and added value in defending
- Substitutions or lack thereof.
- With injuries and suspensions some younger players have been on the bench this year.
- None have been called on with any frequency and in the last three games when some young, fresh, and energetic players may have been warranted we’ve seen old faces offering nothing new.
- Portland Timber supporters have grown (I think begrudgingly) to expect Ex-Akron Zips players getting substitution minutes over others.
Regardless of who plays where, and when, the Head Coach and supporting staff ARE responsible for results.
If players in the squad aren’t capable of executing the existing defensive scheme, on-pitch, then the coaching staff has failed to create the right platform to minimize risk given those same players technical skills.
A motto most successful leaders live by is ‘criticize in private – praise in public’. I’d offer that’s a pretty good one to live by.
In my limited experience I see no value – absolutely no value – in criticizing player performance in public. Suck it up during the press conference and work it out privately.
Defenders are doing a very good job of supporting the team in attack so at least half of their game is technically sound.
But I’d offer the reverse of that is NOT true.
Midfielders (especially on the wings) are not doing a very good job in supporting the defenders when without the ball.
This lapse in supporting the fullbacks, who are asked to participate in the attack, creates a knock-on effect.
As central midfielders get pulled wide to support the wings, the center, above the back-four is getting exposed.
If Portland Timbers, when attacking, expect that philosophy to gain time and space in the middle, it’s reasonable, if not down right rude, not to expect the opponent to do the same thing.
Conclusion: Since lack of consistency in defending has been an issue since the start of 2016 I’d submit Caleb Porter is on the hot seat; others may think differently.
In business it’s rude to walk into your boss’s office and present them with a real or perceived problem without providing a proposed solution.
Proposed Solution: The 4-2-3-1 isn’t working; convert to a more conservative 4-3-2-1 or a 3-5-2.
I’ll disregard the 3-5-2, for now, Portland Timbers don’t have much in the way of center-backs.
A basic description of the 4-3-2-1:
- If your a team that cedes possession and strives to execute the counter-attack, with attacking fullbacks, this is a really good formation to use. Key positions include:
- Fullbacks who are asked/expected to participate in attack.
- Holding Central Midfielder: Ball winner who doesn’t foul often. Offers great distribution and great ball control. The fulcrum for ball movement.
- Outside Central Midfielders: Box-to-box players with great (strong) ball winning skills across the width of the pitch, good ball control and distribution skills.
- Attacking Midfielders: Goal scorers with sublime ball control and creativity across the width of the pitch; slightly less immediate defensive response needs but must be able to work back and support the wings if the opponent sustains possession.
- Lone Striker: Play with his back to goal, great striking instincts, and a hard worker in moving when without the ball.
Players who I think best fill those roles are: Fullbacks = Zarek Valentin & Vytas; HCM = Darlington Nagbe; OCMs = Diego Chara and David Guzman, ACMs = Diego Valeir and Sebastian Blanco, Striker = Fenando Adi
Why Darlington Nagbe as the Holding Central Midfielder?
- He’s the best ball control player on the pitch – put him in the center where he’s likely to get the most touches.
- It saves his legs since he won’t be asked to play box-to-box anymore; that job will fall to Diego Chara and David Guzman, players who have the engines to do that.
- Prohibits him from disappearing during the game, and
- Since Darlington doesn’t (or won’t) “inflict” his will/personality on the pitch (in attack) and he doesn’t often take an ego-type penetrating run into the 18 yard box it leaves room for other players like Sebastian Blanco and Diego Valeri to do that more often.
Those are some of my reasons why I think Portland Timbers should change their formation in order to mitigate defending weaknesses across the pitch.
Oddly enough, this formation also supports mitigating Nagbe’s weaknesses while also maximizing his strengths.
I call that a win-win-win as this change should get Portland Timbers more wins.
What are your thoughts?
NOTE: The latest breaking news indicates Diego Chara is out for 4 weeks, or so, with hamstring issues, Amobi Okugo out for 4 months, or so, with strained MCL, and Darlington Nagbe likely to miss at least one game with re-strained hamstring.
- Not good as the injuries pile up as well as the goals against – teams in this league will have no pity for Portland Timbers.
- If ever a time is needed to circle the ’emotional wagon’ it’s now… these injuries should actually force Caleb Porter to dig into his bench – the silver lining – as painful as it may be – could be these mid-season injuries see players who haven’t been called on, in the past, to get their chance to succeed. Even if they don’t see immediate success those minutes will be valuable to them for the future.
Possession with Purpose: PWP is a composite Index of both teams possession percentages, passing accuracy, penetration percentages, shot creation percentages, accuracy of putting those shots on goal, and goals scored – a bell curve of major indicators in the game of soccer.