Category: Team Analysis

Gluck: Tea Leaves on Timbers Traveling to Toronto

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

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

The Science (Attacking): 

Toronto at home compared with Portland on the road.

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

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

The Art:

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

The Science (Defending):

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

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

The Art:

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

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

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

Total Soccer Index:  Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

Set pieces win games…

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

Best, Chris

You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckpwp

Re-tweets are not rude… 🙂

MLS Week 3 Recap – Sporting KC Continues to Crush Competition

With three more points in a home win, against the early season nomads of Toronto (first eight games on the road), Sporting KC is solidifying an early season position as the team to beat.

Not only in the Western Conference league table but in the MLS Composite PWP Index (through Week 3) at the end of this article.

Here’s the CPWP Index just for Week 3:

MLS CPWP Index Week 3

Rounding out the top five teams in overall performance this week:

  1. FC Dallas get the top honors this past weekend.  Many have figured Dallas would be at or near the top all season and it’s reasonable to assume that Pareja was happy with those three points.
  2. A huge surprise, perhaps, is the appearance of Philadelphia Union in the top five.  They had a solid 2-nil victory over a slumping Revolution and Curtin is sure to be pleased with CJ Sapong getting a brace.  Ride that wave as long as you can Sons of Ben!
  3. For the first time this year Columbus appear in the top five; much of that may be down to their possession-based attack but I’d offer it’s more about their defensive tenor.  It’s the Crews’ first point this year and none to soon.
  4. Colorado Rapids – Fourth best, and a team that many considered a cellar-dweller. It’s always a good thing but perhaps, in four to five weeks, its’ a two points lost and not one point one.  DC United, as you’ll see later, are in an early season swoon.  Another plus for the Rapids is the addition of Tim Howard.
  5. Last but not least – the first time this year the LA Galaxy break the top five in my weekly Index.  Some folks observed that the Earthquakes defense is pretty paltry and gives up lots of shots in prime locations.  That may be the case – but it’s reasonable to offer that two of the Galaxy three goals came from outside the prime hot-spot.  I’d put that down to stellar attacking play – not poor defensive play on the part of San Jose.

Bottom dwellers for Week 3:

  1. If FC Dallas were best in Week 3 then it shouldn’t surprise many that Montreal were worst in Week 3.  Across the board their team numbers suffered.  They finished near bottom in Attacking PWP and mid-table in DPWP.  More to follow a bit later.
  2. New England Revolution were next worse and Jay Heaps should be worried.  They had a goal fest against Dynamo and only got one point.  Question – if they have an early season slump, to go along with an expected mid-season slump, where exactly do they finish?
  3. Chicago Fire are third worst this week.  Even so. I remain steadfastly stubborn, or stubbornly steadfast, that things will improve.  Bottom line here is they ceded possession and weren’t able to score on the counter.  When a team takes an approach like that it’s likely they’ll finish near bottom in CPWP.  On the bright side – Defense first – and a shot out against last years’ Eastern Conference Champs is a good thing; at least for now.
  4. DC United are fourth worst even though they got a draw this weekend.  Here’s the sad part – when looking at their volume of passes in the attacking final third they had 142 of them.  A 66% completion rate with 19 shots taken.  If you’re a Timbers supporter it’s likely those numbers sound familiar.  Bottom line here – lots of shots and lots of penetration – but no patience…
  5. San Jose got beat in a number of ways this weekend by LA.  If you’re going to cede possession it’s probably wise to be a bit tighter just atop the 18 yard box.  They weren’t and they paid for it.

In shifting to strictly Attacking PWP – here’s how the teams line up in attack:

MLS APWP Index Week 3

Best of the best were:

  1. LA Galaxy – They completely dominated the attacking side of the game.  The last two weeks I’ve offered that a poor performance by the Galaxy this year could see Bruce Arena end his stint as the Head Coach.  In speaking with Wendy Thomas last week it may be Bruce’s last year anyway.  Wendy offered Bruce may opt to move into the front office; guess we’ll see.
  2. New York Red Bulls had a goal fest against Houston.  All told they got four and barely won the game.  Lesson learned for future Houston opponents – you need to score, and score a lot, to beat Houston.
  3. Colorado Rapids were third best in overall attack.  They got their goal and one point on the road.  But as noted earlier – this might have been 2 points lost not 1 point won.
  4. Portland Timbers got two goals from 26 shots.  Wow…  Lots of possession and penetration.  If Real Salt Lake doesn’t throw the game away, with two red cards, it’s quite possible the Timbers are on the back end of this Index.  In recalling last year – the Timbers had a huge volume of shots taken but found it hard to find the back of the net – till late on.  So this shouldn’t be a surprise this year.  The challenge, I think, is how long does Caleb continue to stick with this horse (4-3-3) before showing some more flexibility in running a single or double pivot 4-4-2? Question – is it too early to think the opponents have had enough time to plan on defending the 4-3-3?
  5. Philadelphia Union were fifth best in attack this week.  Getting three goals usually gets you in the top five.  Unlike the one point, the Rapids got against DC United, the Union did not wind up with a draw and a potential loss of two points.  This was a very good win for the Union!

Worst of the worst in attack:

  1. Chicago Fire – Figure this as a no-brainer now…  If you don’t look to possess the ball that much, and you don’t execute the counter-attack that well, it’s likely you’ll finish quite low in this Index.  Bottom line is they got a point against a very strong Columbus team (at least last year they were strong)!
  2. Montreal Impact were second worst.  The more to follow from earlier…. Only 16% of their completed passes, in the attacking final third, ended up leading to a shot taken.  And of those shots taken, only 33% were on goal and none of them hit the back of the net…  It was an away game, and it was against FC Dallas.  I wouldn’t panic about the Impacts’ result this week.
  3. Toronto FC – I’m still trying to figure out if this team needs Jozy Altidore.  I saw a small part of this game, and granted he’s been injured, but it just seems reasonable to me that the attacking focus comes from Giovinco.  And since Altidore isn’t really a passer I wonder if he’s more of a spare part that doesn’t really fit.
  4. New England – If you thought the Impact results were poor – get this.  With nearly 57% possession, a 74% completion rate within the final third, (equaling ~150 passes completed) they generated just nine shots taken.  That’s a 6% penetration to shots taken ratio – probably the lowest ratio I’ve seen in three years.  Terrible – and a great indicator the Union defense was stellar!
  5. Columbus Crew – With such a vast amount of possession they too were paltry in shots taken per completed pass in the attacking final third.  They finished on 8% compared to the Revolutions’ 6% – I’d say that speaks volumes about the Chicago Fire defense too.

Defending PWP:

MLS DPWP Index Week 3

Defense usually wins games  – for this week three of the top five got three points.

  1. Columbus Crew – If your opponent doesn’t really possess the ball then it’s sometimes a good bet they won’t score either.  For the Crew this week that was the case.  Berhalter likes his possession-based game and he should feel good his team got a clean sheet.  But – with Chicago running a 3-5-2 it kinda seems reasonable they wanted to get at least one point – so maybe the Crew finishing high here is more about what the Fire didn’t do than what the Crew did do?
  2. FC Dallas was second best this week in defending.  That’s not usually the case with this team as their counter-attacking style usually cedes possession and means the opponent has a better passing accuracy percentage.  That was not the case with Montreal this weekend.  And it’s very timely given the five-nil loss against Houston last weekend!
  3. Sporting KC- Did I mention last week that both Nagamura and Feilhaber still haven’t played yet?  I think I did, but at the risk of repeating myself Sporting KC sit on nine points with two of their best midfielders out!  Hmmmmm…
  4. Philadelphia Union – Is three nil and three points a worthy output against the Revolution?  You betcha – the question for me is are the Union really that good in defending or are the Revolution really crap in attacking?  We should know more about that in five to six weeks.
  5. Chicago Fire – They employed their 3-5-2 last weekend and it got them one point against last years’ Eastern Conference Champions.  Worthy result – if your happy and you know it clap your hands #CF97.

The worst of the worst:

  1. I’ve already talked about San Jose so let’s move on to Houston.
  2. Houston has been scoring goals left and right.  They did this week too – but gave up four as well.   If Coyle wants to continue to get points he either needs to have his team increase their three goals a game average or get his defense to improve.  I’d expect him to work on the latter of the two.
  3. DC United – Does the swoon predicted in week 1 continue for DC United this year – like 2013 – or do they get better.  First order of business is to get a Kitchen sink….
  4. Real Salt Lake – I put this down to two red cards and a complete lack of discipline.  In watching this game from start to finish I’d offer Nick Rimando and company had the tactical game plan to win this game.  They blew three points, and with the Western Conference expected to be very competitive this year – they may really regret those two red cards.  On the other hand, as a Timbers supporter – brilliant!  Even more brilliant is seeing that City up North at the bottom of the table!
  5. New England Revolution – A number of gaps in this team.  They can’t score and they can’t really defend.  Are the Revolution the new Chivas USA?  Wow – never figured I’d offer that question for this team…..

So how do the teams stack up after three full weeks?

MLS CPWP Index 2016 To Date Week 3

Is it any surprise Sporting KC are at the top and that city up north is at the bottom?

  • Not really…  for me the early season surprises are Colorado and Houston 2nd and 3rd – while DC United and New York Red Bulls are 19th and 18th respectively.
  • A good thing to remember about my Index – there is no subjectivity…  so what happened last year stays with last year!

Some fun facts after Week 3.

  • The ‘r’  for Composite TSR is .56 – well below the CPWP Index.
  • Average passing accuracy 75.55%
  • Average shots taken per completed pass in penetration 16.14%
  • Teams that win have a higher average passing accuracy than teams that lose
  • Teams that win average slightly more possession than teams that lose.
  • Away teams have taken 29 points and average 386 passes per game with 11 shots taken, 4 shots on goal, and 1.13 goals scored.
  • Home teams have taken 53 points and average 438 passes per game with 15 shots taken, 6 shots on goal, and 1.87 goals scored.
  • It still pays to play at home…

A new feature this year; what was the +/- for each team after Week 3 compared to Week 2?

MLS CPWP Index 2016 Week 3 Compared To Week 2

Biggest movers are the plus side were FC Dallas, 6 places, while Colorado, LA Galaxy, and Columbus Crew moved up 3 places.  Those dropping the most included San Jose losing 6 places, with New England dropping 5 places, and Toronto/Montreal each sinking 4 places.

Best, Chris

COPYRIGHT, All Rights Reserved.  PWP – Trademark.

MLS Week 2 Recap – Dynamo Decisively Dump Dallas

Five -nil and eight goals in two games – the Dynamo are Coyled to strike from anywhere with anyone, to include using the opponent to score for them!

All told, Houston have two goals from Andrew Wenger, and one each from Will Bruin, Ricardo Clark, David Horst, Cristian Maidana, Giles Barnes, and Matt Hedges (FC Dallas).

Would it be reasonable to expect Houston Dynamo are at, or near the top of my MLS CPWP Index this week?  

MLS PWP Index 2016 Week 2

Yup…  we have:

  1. Houston – the epitome of a team who’s doing extremely well in attacking possession with purpose while defending one of the best attacking teams in MLS.
  2. Colorado – Marco Pappa was the perfect sub!  What’s going on in the mind of Bruce Arena after this week?
  3. Montreal Impact – The only team in the Eastern Conference to break the top five barrier.  All this WITHOUT Didier Drogba.  Scary…
  4. Real Salt Lake – they defeated that city up north.  Many before this season began probably didn’t envision that.  On paper LA look good – but Seattle don’t even look good on paper.  Am I making more of this three points now than I might in ten weeks time?
  5. Sporting KC sit fourth best for this week and they’ve yet to see Feilhaber, Opara, or Nagamura on the pitch.  Seems like Vermes continues to work his bench magic.

Okay, those are the Gallant’s for this week – what teams fit the mold of Goofus?  

  1. FC Dallas is bottom – not only did they fail to score for themselves they were also very generous in scoring for Houston.  Communication was an issue it would appear.
  2. LA Galaxy – an odd game perhaps?  LA Galaxy did not dominate possession and were, by far, the worst of the two when it came to passing accuracy.  Was this an attempt by Arena to play a counter-attacking game?  It’s hard to tell from the highlights.   One thing is for sure – you have to play the full 90+ minutes and the Galaxy didn’t.  I mentioned this last week and I sense it’s worthy to mention this again – is it too early to offer that Arena might not make it to next year if the Galaxy don’t make the playoffs this year?
  3. New York Red Bulls – two games against Eastern Conference foes and two games lost – week 1 wasn’t good and week two was worse.  Hmmmmmm…….
  4. Seattle Sounders – that’s two weeks in a row where their strikers failed to produce. Like last week I mentioned the loss of Obefemi Martins – I guess it’s worthy to mention his departure again.
  5. Vancouver Whitecaps – something’s not right up north.  Is it ego and that belief that since they had so many great results last year they expected to have those same results again this year?  I don’t know – but as LA Galaxy have already shown this year – paper is not good enough to get you three points.

Now for my Attacking Possession with Purpose (APWP) Index:

MLS APWP Index 2016 Week 2

 

Yes.

  1. Houston Dynamo – Is it any wonder the team who got five goals is top of this Index?  They completely dominated the counter-attacking approach by Pareja.  I wonder if those video sequences will add value to other teams looking to beat ‘cede possession bandwagon’?
  2. Montreal Impact – Steady as she goes.  Three goals is a good thing – Mario Biello is working some magic.
  3. San Jose – Given that the Timbers approach also centered on ceding possession is it any wonder San Jose were 3rd best here?  No…..  and it’s pretty reasonable to expect the video from this game will be studied by those looking to beat the ‘cede possession bandwagon’.
  4. Sporting KC – For me this speaks volumes about Peter Vermes.  In both games they broke the 560 pass barrier and both games saw them taking three points.  The art and science of winning, with possession, is not lost.  And most amazing of all is that Sporting is doing that without Feilhaber and Nagamura.
  5. Real Salt Lake – a grinding three points for the Lakers and a grueling loss of three points for that city up north.  Workmanlike comes to mind; especially after being down a goal so early in the game.

The debbie-downers in APWP this weekend were:

  1. LA Galaxy – as noted in the overall CPWP Index, Arena looked to have his guys playing counter-attacking so their possession and passing numbers were likely to be lower.  What I’m sure he didn’t expect was seeing the Rapids perform well in defending.  For those who did follow the Rapids last year it wasn’t their defense that sucked.  Overall, they finished 5th best in DPWP.  Arena got it wrong this game.
  2. DC United – last week they were 5th worst in APWP and this week they’re second bottom.  Going from bad to worse?  It looks like it.  I’d almost offer they’ve throw away everything other than the Kitchen sink… oh wait a minute – Kitchen is gone isn’t he?
  3. Seattle Sounders – echoes of last years strong attacking team resound no more in the Puget Sound.  There’s much to do with that team and if Morris isn’t the answer – who is?
  4. New England Revolution – last week they scored three goals and finished in the top 5.  This week they couldn’t score a goal against DC United – who actually finished at the bottom of DPWP last week.  Consistency is not a word to describe New England. The question is – will it ever be?
  5. New York Red Bulls –  if Montreal sits near top in APWP it shouldn’t come as a surprise the Red Bulls sit near bottom.  Last week they failed to score with reasonable possession and penetration.  This week was no different.  Not the type of improvement you want.

As with everything in soccer – there are two halves to the game.  How well you perform in attack and how well you perform in defending against your opponents’ attack.  

Here’s my Defending Possession with Purpose (DPWP) diagram this week:

MLS DPWP Index 2016 Week 2

The top five teams in defending were:

  1. Colorado – as mentioned earlier this should not surprise many people.  If you are surprised you’re reading too much bollocks from others.  And a clean sheet against LA Galaxy, at least for now, should speak volumes…  at least for now.
  2. New England – I’m not sure how well this goes down with some.  DC United were shut out and a clean sheet is a clean sheet is a clean sheet.  But with the Kitchen sink gone in DC United, this shut-out might not carry much weight later this year.
  3. Real Salt Lake – as noted with New England – no goals against is always a good thing. Even more so when the opponent isn’t dominating across the entire pitch.  I may ask this more than once; are Seattle missing Obefemi Martins yet?
  4. DC United – it seems reasonable that if New England fit into the top five in DPWP then DC United would too…  They did – as noted earlier a clean sheet is a clean sheet. More to follow later this year I imagine.
  5. Montreal Impact – perhaps shutting out the Red Bulls won’t be such a big deal later this year?  Who cares.  It’s now and the teams play for now.  A clean sheet is always worthy – what makes it better for Montreal is they scored too.

The dregs of defending were:

  1. FC Dallas – anytime you give up four goals to your opponent, and your defense scores for them as well, you gotta figure that team will be at or near bottom of DPWP.  They were.
  2. New York Red Bulls – Two goals against in week 1 and three goals against in week 2. The Red Bulls haven’t even taken a step forward – just two steps back.  In this case most opponents would like to think they could dance with a team like this all year. How long does Sal Zizzo start at fullback and can they find a solid replacement for Perrinelle?
  3. Portland Timbers – if you watched this game it seemed pretty clear, at least to me, that neither Taylor nor Valentin did well.  Their first combined error appeared to me as a lack of communication in tracking one of the best poachers in MLS; Wondolowski.  The second combined error was a contest on who could get out of position the quickest when trying to win the ball against Amarikwa.  I’m sure those low-lights will be on the video hit list for Caleb Porter this week.
  4. Vancouver – they were third worst in DPWP last week and third worst this week.  Consistency seems to be a word I can use here – not the best type of consistency and surely not the type of consistency New England will be wanting either.
  5. Seattle Sounders – the two most telling statistics against that city up north come down to the Lakers high passing accuracy, across the entire pitch (78%), plus the two goals scored with just four shots on goal.

With two weeks gone how do things stack up for the season so far?

MLS CPWP Index 2016 To date

Last year the CPWP Index “r” hovered around .6 to .7 – this year the “r” (correlation of the CPWP Index to Points earned without using points in the equation) sits at .83.  The higher the better this Index relates to points earned in the league table.

The top five shows as:

  1. Montreal – five goals for and no goals against; near 80% in passing accuracy (4 % above the league average) and 67.5% goals scored compared to shots on goal.  You can’t ask for a better start than that!
  2. Sporting KC – like Montreal have six points in two games.  I think it’s worth mentioning again – all this has occurred without Feilhaber and Nagamura on the pitch.  Could a reasonable question be – does Vermes start either of those two once they are healthy?  Insane… but maybe not?
  3. Houston Dynamo – last week they got three and gave up three – this week they got five and gave up none…  I think they are worthy as number three on this list.  How high do they finish on the MLSSoccer.com list?
  4. Real Salt Lake – I’d offer a number of pundits expect them to miss the playoffs this year – four points is a solid start – still 32 games to play.  Can they sustain?
  5. Colorado – Well………  I suppose I could say “ibid” here.  But perhaps a different question – was the three points against LA Galaxy a shocker or not?  We probably don’t know the answer to that question until week 10 or 15.  Buckle in for a wild ride on the Rapids this year.

The cellar dwellers are:

  1. New York Red Bulls – shut out twice and five goals against.  Plainly stated – the attack isn’t working and neither is the defense.
  2. Seattle Sounders – right now the only team my predictability index shows the Sounders beating are the Red Bulls.
  3. DC United – they need to find a new Kitchen sink!  Fast!
  4. Vancouver Whitecaps – Last year the Whitecaps were 5th worst in DPWP and 6th worst in APWP.  When all said and done they still finished 8th best in CPWP and 2nd in the Western Conference league table.  If they are going to continue to play counter-attacking football they need to get better in defending.  Five goals against kinda infers the space they cede in the mid-field doesn’t translate to turnovers, and quick counter-attacking from their defensive final third.
  5. Chicago Fire – first time we’ve talked about them this week.  It seems like last year they were the team getting all the negative press.  I think their position in the CPWP Index is more about the four goals they gave up at home to NYCFC and not the well deserved draw they got in Orlando last weekend.

In closing, some fun facts:

  1. Away teams have taken 20 points while home teams have taken 35 points.
  2. Passing accuracy across MLS averages 75.70%; a slight drop from last week.
  3. Teams that win average 50.84% possession while teams that lose average 49.16% possession.
  4. Finally, teams that win have a higher average in passing accuracy (76.47%) than teams who lose (75.80%).
  5. Teams that win take fewer shots per penetrating possession (17.26%) than teams that lose (19.73%).
  6. Teams that win average more shots on goal per shot taken (46.95%) than teams that lose (31.55%).
  7. Those same teams that take fewer shots per penetrating possession score more goals per shot taken (44.75%) than teams that lose (12.29%).
  8. In other words, more patience in the attacking final third, like last year, the year before, and the year before, means more shots on goal AND more goals scored.

All for now – what are your thoughts on the top and bottom five so far this year?

Best, Chris

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

New York City – For Kreis Sake?

Much could be subjectively offered here on the strengths and weaknesses of Jason Kreis and the decision by New York City FC to sack him; but not knowing the details behind the decision means it’s not worthy to comment.  

Instead – some analysis using the foundation of Possession with Purpose – on the why and how those team performance statistics highlight some issues that their leadership may need to address now that the season has ended.

A few caveats:

The overall PWP Index correlation, to points earned in the league table, wasn’t quite as high this year (.76/2015) as in previous years (.84/2013 & .85/2014).

I put that down to greater parity – meaning teams that didn’t possess the ball (as much) or teams that had lower passing accuracy (across the entire pitch) were just as likely to take three points as teams that didn’t.

Finally, there is no intent to point out individual player performance here either – like having no awareness of internal decision-making I also had no access to witness training sessions nor the in-depth tactics Kreis asked his players to perform.

To start – New York City fell into a category of teams who possessed the ball with higher than average passing accuracy (3rd highest and 6th highest respectively).  

Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

 

That 3rd highest in possession translated to 2nd highest away from home and 5th highest when playing at home.

Only New York Red Bulls and Columbus Crew exceeded them in overall possession.

In terms of passing accuracy they were 4th highest on the road and 9th lowest at home.

To put some additional context to this – like last year – eight teams averaged more than 50% possession this season; three of them failed to make the playoffs – New York City, Real Salt Lake, and Orlando.

Those same three teams were also in the top ten for passing accuracy – and as in possession – they were the only teams who didn’t make the playoffs out of those top ten.

But high percentages in passing accuracy and possession don’t necessarily mean you make the playoffs – this past year all three of the top three teams out west failed to exceed 50% in possession and only Portland finished in the top ten for passing accuracy.

So is the demise of New York City, not making the playoffs, down to poor attacking?  No…

Overall, they finished in the top ten of the APWP Index and nine of those top ten teams made the playoffs.

In conclusion, I sense it’s reasonable to offer that their combined quality, with respect to possession, passing accuracy, penetration, shot creation, and goals scored per shot creation, was good enough to get them in the playoffs but it didn’t.

Meaning there is need to look elsewhere… Team Defending.

 

When viewing defending team performance indicators the one that sticks out the most is New York City allowed their opponent’s the highest percentage of shots taken per penetration.

Even more disturbing, is even though opponent’s had the third lowest overall possession they also had the highest volume of shots taken…

In other words, their opponent’s didn’t have much of the ball, but when they did, they not only created quality shots per penetration they also generated the most shots regardless of volume in penetration.

So in terms of both quality and quantity New York City were left wanting in defending, and those opponent totals lead to the highest goals against, per game, in MLS (1.76).

But like possession and passing accuracy, my intent isn’t to pidgeon-hole one or two specific team performance indicators but to look at the breadth and depth of overall team performance in defending.

Overall, New York City were 8th worst in team performance defending.

And of the bottom ten teams in the Defending PWP Index only five made the playoffs.

Of note – the top four teams in the DPWP Index were Seattle, New York Red Bulls, FC Dallas, and Vancouver.

And all four of those teams made the playoffs with New York Red Bulls and FC Dallas tying for most points earned in MLS; defense matters… even in a league rife with parity!

New York City moving forward:

The big picture:

First things first – just because Manchester City is extremely successful in a possession-based attack doesn’t mean that same tactical philosophy works across the pond.

Major League Soccer is NOT the English Premier League – parity thrives to a far greater extent in this league than in England.

Meaning – from my viewpoint – if New York City is going to continue to work towards a possession-based style they will need to find better defenders and midfielders who defend without the ball as well as with the ball.

And with a number of foreign players already in the mix, it’s likely those new players may need to be Americans!

So here we potentially have an organization, founded as part of the Manchester City organization, one with an extensive pedigree in developing players, that is most likely going to have to find Americans to bolster quality (in defending as much as attacking) as they look to improve their possession-based attack where passing and first touch are a premium.

Others may disagree, but I think that bodes well in this country – and – eventually – it should help strengthen further development for our national team.

The little picture:

Changes in players are needed – who goes and when and who replaces them is not for me to figure out – but given the pedigree of the Manchester City statistics and scouting department I imagine they’ve got a few players in mind.

As for Jason Kreis:

There are a number of different paths forward for this very good Head Coach – perhaps he gets picked up by Chicago?  I’d imagine everyone who follows #CF97 would love to see that.

Or perhaps another twist – Jason returns to Real Salt Lake – or…

As we spoke about on the Yellowcardedpod the other night, with Thomas Rongen, maybe Sigi Schmid retires and Garth Lagerway calls on Jason Kreis to lead Seattle?  Personally I hope not (#RCTID)

It was good to see Jason Kreis move to the Eastern Conference – if you ask me Chicago is the place to be – not that city up north from Portland.

However viewed, I don’t think Jason will remain out of employment very long.

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

Possession with Purpose – Prozone – and more…

No detailed statistics today – just a narrative to pass on a few tidbits as I prepare my End of Season analysis for Europe.

The news:

The European Season is ending.

  • There’s the winners, the losers, and those that stay afloat to live another year.
  • I’ll peel back the results on the English Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, and UEFA Champions League in the next few weeks.
  • For now, in La Liga the PWP Composite Index has a .94 correlation coefficient (r) to points earned in the league table; the Bundesliga sits at .92, the English Premier League sits at .94, while the UEFA Champions League sits at .87.
  • All incredibly strong and far stronger than MLS (.61) this year; last year MLS finished at .87.
  • Speaking of MLS, does a league, where winners display more characteristics of counterattacking, versus just possession-based attacking, detract from predictability?
  • In other words does the lower correlation support a League’s ability to achieve “parity” in professional soccer?
  • If so, is that style/type of football attractive enough to continue to grow footy in the States?
  • If not – does that mean the business model currently set up in the States won’t ever achieve a league “status” that matches the “prestige” most seem to attach to the top leagues in Europe?
  • More to follow…

I think these two video presentations by Hector Ruiz and Paul Power, from Prozone, are worth listening to.

  • In this video (tactical profiling) Hector, who attended my presentation at the World Conference on Science and Soccer last year, talks about his latest efforts that include breaking down the different types of possession in a much greater detail than I ever could with public data.
  • Of note is Hector substantiates my finding that a Head Coach’s tactical approach can be differentiated through tracking possession (passing characteristics) on the pitch.
  • He also helps begin to solve the riddle on measuring which players perform better or worse given those different styles of possession.
  • A soap-box, for me, when looking at my article on ‘Moneyball relative to soccer’, is the inability of modern day soccer statistics to show real value on how well teammates actually influence an individual’s success or failure on the pitch relative to how the team actually plays (what style it works to).
  • Here’s a direct lift from my article referenced above…

Modern day soccer statistics, for the most part, don’t measure the appropriate level of influence teammates, opposing players, and Head Coaching tactics – as such when I say I’m not a Moneyball guy when it comes to soccer it really means I don’t buy all that crap about tackles, clearances, goals scored, etc…

I value players relative to team outputs and I strongly feel and think the more media and supporters who understand this about soccer the less frustration they will (have) in blaming or praising one individual player over another player.

  • In the next video (game intelligence) Paul takes a similar approach in analyzing team behavior like PWP – separating out defensive characteristics from attacking characteristics while also modeling a ‘defensive press’ that measures success or failure in passing based upon whether or not a defender is hindering the attacker.
  • This topic has been one that I have also touched on last year – here’s a direct quote from my article on Hurried Passes.

So what is missing from the generic soccer statistical community to account for the void in Unsuccessful Passes?  Is it another statistic like Tackles Won, Duals Won, Blocked Shots, or Recoveries?

I don’t think so – none of them generated a marked increase in the overall correlation of those three activities already identified.  I think (it) is the physical and spatial pressure applied by the defenders as they work man to man and zone defending efforts.

  • Likewise, Paul also touches on ‘passing vision’ (in my words it’s not the innate vision many of us think of for players) – it’s more a discussion and analyses (I think) on the ‘windows of passing lanes’ available to players and whether or not they have tendencies to play riskier passes versus safer passes in relation to what the defenders are doing.
  • For me this simply means Paul has taken the same defensive pressure data and flipped it to view the success or failure of a player to find another player to pass to or create a shot given the defensive pressure (lanes/vision) that are blocked or open.
  • In simplistic teams (with new event statistics) you can capture and intuit that success or failure by filtering passes as being ‘open or hindered’ and also apply that same filter to create ‘open or hindered’ shots.  My article on this approach was also published some time ago – New Statistics in Soccer (Open Pass and Open Shot)
  • Finally, Paul also speaks to a game of soccer resembling the behavior of a school of fish; I’m not sure I’m convinced that is the best analogy – especially when he talks about under-loading and overloading, but his view does closely resemble mine where the game of soccer perhaps is best represented by a single-cell Amoeba.

All told – two well crafted presentations that begin to open up and really reinforce some of my soap-box issues with soccer statistics since starting my research three years ago.

To be redundant – soccer is not just about scoring goals – there is more to the game than goals scored; these two presentations continue to support my view that the world of soccer statistics needs to continuously get better…

My back-yard / stubby pencil approach to team performance analysis is soon to be published through Rand.

  • I want to express my sincere thanks to Terry Favero – my Co-Author – who helped me navigate the challenging waters of writing an Academic Paper.
  • Terry added considerable value, as well, in researching other works to help set the stage on the differences of PWP versus other efforts developed and published across the globe.
  • Finally, Terry provided superb editorial support – a challenge in that the writing styles one normally sees in a blog are completely unacceptable when writing an Academic Paper.
  • Great fun and the first of at least two to three more.

Last but not least, the Women’s World Cup is beginning.

  • Last year I applied the principles of PWP to the Men’s World Cup – with good order.
  • I’ll refresh everyone on how that took shape and then begin to chart how PWP takes shape for the Women’s World Cup.
  • I wonder what, if any, differences will show in comparing the women’s game to the men’s game?
  • Will the data show the same trends in quality and quantity?
  • Or will we see a reduction in quantity that may end up driving an increase in quality?
  • More to follow.

Best, Chris

COPYRIGHT – All Rights Reserved.  PWP – Trademark

UEFA Champions League – Who moves on Barcelona, Bayern, Madrid, or Juventus?

I’ve been a bit busy lately so apologies for not offering up any research on Possession with Purpose; lots going on with it at the moment while all five competitions I measure are still going at full speed.

To catch up, using a picture first, here’s a look at how PWP compares to Total Shots Ratio as well as Goal Differential when viewing the UEFA Champions League:

PWP v TSR v GDNote that I’ve highlighted – in green – where the top 4 teams (FC Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Juventus) fit into each of the correponding Indices (if you will).

As an added Index I’ve also included the PWP Predictability Index (an Index that EXCLUDES goals scored (for or against) in the overall calculations.  A reminder that from a pure predictability standpoint the Predictability Index remains the only Index that excludes goals scored when developing a prediction as to whether a team might earn points.

For the benefit of all I’ve also included how things take shape when teams play at home versus away from home; there are differences.

So what does this mean?

PWP, even in a format different than general league play shows better than TSR as it is known today (i.e not modernized).

While Goal Differential shows well with respect to the overall correlation coefficient (r) to average points earned it doesn’t show best when racking and stacking it as an Index compared to PWP —> when viewing how it ranks teams versus how well they have progressed into the final stages.

What I found intriguing was that the PWP Predictability Index (which excludes goals scored) actually racked and stacked the top 4 teams in the UEFA Champions League better than Goal Differential.

If you’re someone who likes to bet on games early indications show PWP Predictability (excluding goals scored) has FC Bayern ahead of Barcelona and Real Madrid ahead of Juventus.

Of course Arjen Robben has been injured, and given his considerable influence with FC Bayern Munich that predictability model pretty much goes out the door – or does it?

I’d say yes, because when adding goals scored (the PWP Index) Barcelona leap-frogs past FC Bayern; meaning it is highly likely we see Real Madrid and Barcelona in the Finals…. but you decide.

In Closing:

Awhile ago I wrote that FIFA needed to change how they rank teams across the World.

I remain stubbornly steadfast and steadfastly stubborn that the outputs from both the UEFA Champions League and World Cup PWP Indices lend credibility to the suggestion that FIFA revisit protocols on how they seed teams in their various competitions.

Best, Chris

 

Bundesliga – Winter Break is here…

No European team can match the league domination that Bayern Munich has shown this year in the Bundesliga.  However, in spite of Die Bayern’s efforts to run away with the title, the German premier division is still awash with fascinating stories.

The race for the remaining Champions League spot could not be closer – five teams are separated by a mere two points.   And no, that excludes Dortmund, who are floundering in the relegation zone.

To set the stage here’s the five teams vying for that third and final spot:  Bayer Leverkusen; Augsburg, Monchengladbach, FC Schalke, and TSG Hoffenheim.

Here’s where they compare with each other in my Composite Possession with Purpose Index:

CPWP STRATEGIC INDEX BUNDESLIGA WEEK 17All five teams in the top half (positive side) of the CPWP Index.  Meaning all five of those teams are, on a regular basis, outperforming their opponent’s in PWP attacking and defending.

From this it would seem pretty obvious that Bayern Munich also stood out way above all others in the CPWP Index.

In addition, it’s good to see the Index also shows a marked difference, in overall team performance, between Wolfsburg and the other five teams battling for the final UEFA Champions League spot.

Of all the leagues I evaluate, using my Possession with Purpose Family of Indices, this League usually shows the best overall correlation.

Meaning, for some, it may be far more predictable – in other words perhaps the Bundesliga is a great league to bet on game results?

If you do that sort of thing here’s what the CPWP Predictability Index looks like:

CPWP PREDICTABILITY INDEX BUNDESLIGA WEEK 17

A reminder – the CPWP Predictability Index was developed after I had some great discussions with folks at the World Conference on Science and Soccer 2014.

Myself, Ben Knapper (Arsenal FC Head of Stats) and others at PROZONE sports all agreed that the Index ‘could?’ have value as a predictability model if Goals Scored/Against data was removed.

The teams with Green Bars are the five teams battling for the third and final UEFA Champions League spot – the Purple Bar, Borussia Dortmund, is highlighted simply because they ‘should’ be winning – given their talent – but they aren’t!

But… could this be a model to actually reinforce Borussia Dortmund still remain a team who can make UEFA Champions League next year even though they are 13 points behind Bayer Leverkusen?  I wonder what the odds are on that?

If you missed my presentation at the WCSS of 2014 here’s a link – in the seven months of this blog it has been my most viewed/read article.

Attacking PWP:

APWP STRATEGIC INDEX BUNDESLIGA WEEK 17

Here again the top two teams are tops in the Index.

For those thinking the best in attack is what drives success it appears FC Schalke and then Bayer Leverkusen are best situated to push forward – while Augsburg slides way back towards Borussia Dortmund.

In taking a look at FC Schalke versus Bayer Leverkusen what separates them in this Index seems pretty interesting.

  • Schalke average more total passes by volume (452 to 399) but within the Opponent’s Defending Final Third Leverkusen average more passes (155 to 120).
  • To go with that, Leverkusen averages more possession (52% to 50%) but lower overall passing accuracy both within and outside the Opponent’s Defending Final Third (68%/57% compared to Schalke at 76%/61%.
  • Meaning Schalke offer more passes, accurately, prior to entering the Final Third while also offering fewer, more accurate passes, once they’ve penetrated.

Looked at from a Leverkusen viewpoint – Bayer actually possesses the ball more – but is less accurate in that possession.  In addition they also look to penetrate far more frequently than Schalke.

When digging into the shots area – Schalke show more patience in taking fewer shots by volume and percentage but both teams end up with roughly the same volume of Shots on Goal and Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (36% for Leverkusen and 34% for Schalke).

  • Put another way – each team shows different statistical trends in possession, accuracy, penetrating, creating, and taking shots but their overall results are the same.
  • Reinforcing, at least in my view, there are a number of different systematic approaches that will get you to the same place.

Before moving on to Defending PWP I think there is value in taking a look at Augsburg.  Earlier this week I did an article on Major League Soccer called “Getting More from Less“.

The intent was to see who did better last year, in MLS, in getting better results with lower team performance.  My gut-check example to quantifying the results in MLS was West Ham and their Direct Attacking nature.

What I determined was a team who averaged fewer passes than the League Average (both within and outside the Opponent’s Defending Final Third) with less than 50% possession could be reasonably called a Direct Attacking Team.

In looking at Augsburg here’s their attacking data as it fits that mold.

Overall dead on average in Possession at 50%.

Passing Accuracy (entire pitch), 73% – less than the League Average of 74.25%.

Passing Accuracy within the Opponent’s Defending Final Third (56%) – less than the League Average of 57%.

In looking at volume – Total Average Passes for Augsburg was 413 – the League Average was 435

Total Passes within the Opponent’s Defending Final Third for Augsburg was 114 – the League Average 126.

So on the surface it would appear that Augsburg shows the tendency to play more Direct Attacking, as opposed to a Counter-Attacking ‘tactic’, within a Possession-based game.

For Augsburg – they’ve had eight games that have followed the mode of Direct Attacking – they’ve won five of those games.  Pretty solid in getting more from less – but can they sustain that?

The West Ham review showed they have won 7 games out of 11 games where their team averages fell into the Direct Attacking mode.

It would seem Augsburg are almost as successful (percentage wise) in matching West Ham when it comes to winning games where their performance falls below League Average… (63.63% for West Ham versus 62.5% for Augsburg).

Defending PWP:

DPWP STRATEGIC INDEX BUNDESLIGA WEEK 17

Augsburg, like West Ham, are pretty high up in the Defending PWP Index (Hammers are 6th best in the EPL DPWP Index versus Augsburg who are 4th best here).

So the value of a higher team performance in defending helps sustain success with the lower volumes offered up in attack.

Meaning the will of Augsburg rides more with a collaborative approach, in overall team play, than strictly an attack dominated performance.

Monchengladbach is next highest here, while TSG Hoffenheim doesn’t seem to shine in either Index.

I’d expect some long odds on TSG making that third and final UEFA Champions League spot…

So what separates Monchengladbach from TSG?

  • Goals Against – for Monchemgladbach their GA is .94 – for TSG it’s 1.47 – is that down to Mochengladbach simply having a better Goalie?
  • Maybe… their opponent’s actually average more Shots on Goal (5.35) compared to TSG, whose opponent’s average 4.5 Shots on Goal.

Opponents for both teams average total passes, both within and outside the Defending Final Third, greater than the League Average – so by and large most opponents are playing possession based attacking against these two sides.

Where it gets interesting is the volume of successful passes by their opponents after they’ve entered their Defending Final Third.

  • In the case of TSG, the opponents average 20 fewer successful passes, with almost the same amount of shots taken and shots on goal.
  • Meaning, to me, TSG are finding themselves out of position more often as the screws tighten – hence the greater Goals Against.

In other words one team may be playing more man-to-man while another team may be playing more zonal?

I’m not sure which – those with video or access to X,Y coordinates may know that better?

Anyhow – clearly the data points towards one team having a different defensive scheme that may also include Mochengladbach simply having a much better Goal Keeper.

In Closing:

Half the season remains and while Bayern is basically blowing the Bundesliga away there are others who are still making this league worthy to watch.

Will it be the West Ham of the Bundesliga (Augsburg)?  Can Borussia Dortmund pull it back?  How about the other challengers who appear more steady, like FC Schalke, Bayer Leverkusen, or Monchengladbach?

And does TSG Hoffenhein really have a chance as well?  For some I bet UEFA Champions League is the goal for next year – but others might also be shooting for Europa too.

And this doesn’t even broach the topic about who gets relegated – Might that Borussia Dortmund ends up in that race instead?  Wow…….

Jürgen Klopp would get clobbered if that happens!

More to follow…

Best, Chris

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