Category: Uncategorized

Soccer – Remade in America? Editorial

I’m not sure that’s the right title for this article but it probably doesn’t matter.

The intent of what I’m about to offer is more about the potential demise of Football, as most American’s know it, and the huge upside/potential in the continued growth of Football, as the rest of the World knows it.

What prompted this editorial is this article – a worthy read if your a young athlete in America who is interested in making a living playing a sport:  http://ftw.usatoday.com/2015/09/the-chilling-first-script-of-concussion-is-everything-the-nfl-doesnt-want-you-to-see.  I won’t attempt to spoil it for you other than to simply offer that over the next 10-15 years it’s probable (some may argue highly likely) Football, as American’s know it, may be toast.

What’s that mean for the hundreds of thousands, if not low millions (is that exagerating too much), of student athletes across America who dream of playing Football?

I’m not sure but I do have a recommendation – instead of learning the individual player nuance of Football the youth of today should learn the individual/team nuance of Soccer.

There is no other sport, world-wide, that endeavours to take the best of the individual as a way to highlight the best of a team, that in-turn, highlights the best of the individual.  Does that make sense?  I don’t know but I like the sound of it because it’s my attempt to really stress the upside of soccer being the world’s greatest individualized-team sport.

It’s 90+ minutes of non-stop, in your face, action where the interaction of team players can literally shut out the sole action of the individual.

 

 

Possession with Purpose: 2015 In Review

A few bits and pieces I felt would be worthy to share with others as 2016 begins. 

Which articles were read the most in 2015?  

  1. Possession with Purpose – Revised Introduction
  2. Busting the Myth of Moneyball in Soccer Statistics?
  3. Redefining and Modernizing Total Shots Ratio
  4. World Conference on Science and Soccer – My Presentation on Possession with Purpose
  5. Is European Football Really Higher Quality than Major League Soccer? Expected Wins 4

Where do the folks come from who read those articles?

Over 120 countries in all, with the top ten being:

  1. United States
  2. United Kingdom
  3. Canada
  4. Nigeria
  5. Germany
  6. Australia
  7. European Union
  8. Brazil
  9. Italy
  10. Netherlands

The best moment of 2015?

It took a long time to get there but clearly the Portland Timbers winning the MLS Championship Cup was, for me, the top-totty moment of 2015!

portland-timbers-mls-cup

Next up – seeing Possession with Purpose getting published!  Wow – who’da thought?

Thank you!

Best, Chris

Too little too late?

Portland Timbers making a repeat appearance in 2016 championship run looking worse and worse.

If you’ve followed the Timbers this year you pretty much have to admit that the season has been feast or famine based upon results.  Why not – that’s how everyone measures success isn’t it?

I do to, to an extent, but I also like to look at trends, data trends in particular.  And in no time since Caleb Porter has coached this team have we ever seen their initial team performance indicators as low as they were to start this season.

And even now they are especially low, compared to other seasons.  For me this isn’t just an indicator of road woes it’s an indicator of a systemic failure in overall team execution.

Can we point to injuries – some say yes… I disagree – every team has injuries and those issues should be built into how a team builds their team – at least for those teams that have savvy front office staff.

In hindsight, yes, the Timbers have had some player personnel changes, the most glaring failure as been the acquisition of Lucas Melano you say???

For those focusing on money and ‘return of investment’ I’d agree.  but when I look at this team the glaring failure for me is the defensive unit, both individual players and their play as a team (the most critical part)…

Yielding 49 goals is horrendous – that’s nearly twice as many as Colorado and a huge drop-off from last year.  But this isn’t the first time we’ve seen poor performances in team defending for the Timbers.  If it wasn’t for Donovan Ricketts three years ago and some tidy play by Adam Kwarasey and a forgiving post last year the reality of a team-wide poor showing in defense might have shown itself earlier.

Bottom line for me is the Timbers defensive scheme doesn’t work very well…  I don’t know who the coach is in that area but with a two central defenders and two fleet-footed fullbacks this team should give up less space and time atop the 18 yard box than most teams in MLS.

s a reminder – in my measurement method – the PWP Index – the Timbers were fifth worst in combined attacking and defending Possession with Purpose in April this year.

While that number has crept up a bit their overall performance still remains in the bottom half.  And as pretty much hovered there the entirety of this year.  So for me, as painful as it is, this team simply hasn’t been good enough to qualify for the playoffs – even if they do!

But hark, all is not lost, there remains the #CCL and this is where I think and feel the Timbers need to show grist – real grist as their league season, in my view, has been a complete failure.

 

Gluck – Predicting Team Standings in Professional Soccer

CAN IT BE DONE? Over the last four years I’ve conducted research on various professional soccer leagues and competitions.  To include Major League Soccer, the English, German, and Spanish Pre…

Source: Gluck – Predicting Team Standings in Professional Soccer

Gluck: Darlington Nagbe – Where Should He Play?

Darlington Nagbe – An enigmatic enigma of enormous energy where expectations are exceedingly high since he’s easily one of the most ingenious players ever to wear/bleed “Timber Green”.

Playing background:  Nagbe set to be first Timbers player to hit 200-game milestone.

With his next appearance, Darlington Nagbe will become the first Timbers player to reach the 200 games played mark with the club.  If he plays Sunday (which he did), Nagbe will be the second-youngest player ever to hit the 200-games played mark with a single MLS club, best only by Eddie Gavin.

Primary highlights as described by the Portland Timbers profile:

  • PERSONAL: Pronounced “NAG-bee” … Father, Joe, is a for­mer captain of the Liberian National Team …
  • COLLEGE: Compiled 19 goals and 19 assists in 73 matches during three collegiate seasons at the University of Akron …
  • 2011: Made his professional and MLS debut April 2, coming on as a second-half sub in a 1-1 draw at New England … In total, made 28 appearances (21 starts) in his rookie campaign …
  • 2012: Played in 33 games (31 starts) during the regular season, logging 2,777 minutes played and six goals … Finished second on the team in goals scored …
  • 2013: Established career numbers in his third MLS season, starting all 34 games during the regular season and recording nine goals and four assists …
  • 2014: Tallied one goal and an MLS career-high seven assists in 32 appearances (30 starts) during the 2014 season …
  • 2015: Played every minute during the 2015 MLS Cup playoffs (570 minutes) … Tallied an assist in a 2-1 win over Columbus Crew SC in MLS Cup on Dec. 6 …
  • 2016: Appeared in 27 MLS regular-season games (27 starts) … Scored his 24th career MLS goal in a 4-2 win against Vancouver on May 22 …
  • 2017:  More to follow (my words)

Darlington Nagbe as a member of the United States Men’s National Team:

Unappreciated (unrecognized?) skills with Jurgen Klinsmann as Head Coach versus appreciated/recognized and leveraged skills with Bruce Arena as Head Coach.

The question here, as has been the question with Caleb Porter, — where to play and make the best use of what Darlington Nagbe brings to the pitch?

Four years ago I sat down with Caleb Porter and offered, at that time, the best place to make best use of Darlington’s skills was on the left side.

Caleb responded by saying Gavin said pretty much the same thing to me and acknowledged, after reviewing his overall statistics and productivity, he’s more productive on the left side.  The hard part in playing Darlington on the left side is not having someone of good enough caliber to fill the void that move would create on our right side.

Fast forward, two years later, and we saw Porter make that transition; evidence of success showed itself when the Timbers closed out 2015 as MLS Champions.

Today.

In the past few weeks we’ve seen Darlington (with the US Men’s National Team as well as Portland) get minutes on the right, middle, and left; some purposeful minutes – some not; some a resultant of other player injuries some not.  Given those performances…

Has the question on where to play Darlington been renewed?

And if so, does the answer remain the same?

I say “Yes” and “No”.  I’ve asked myself, and others, to put pen to paper in these four categories; purposefully excluded ‘much-misunderstood/maligned’ individual statistics. 

  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Skills to sustain on the pitch
  • Skills to improve on the pitch

My view after watching nearly every single game he’s played since 2011: 

  • Strengths:  Very good ball control to include first touch, second touch, turning, and dribble capability.  I’d offer he has the to create space, for himself and others, while ‘eating/using/making time’ for himself and others.  In the last few years I’d offer he has added greater ability to playing on both sides of the ball; and importantly, making tackles/slowing opponent play without garnering yellow/red cards.  A player who connects well (in short passing) with team-mates.
  • Weaknesses:  Hasn’t shown consistent capability in offering ‘seeing-eye’ through balls; sometimes offers far more ‘negative’ or ‘lateral’ passes then forward leaning passes.  Doesn’t strike the ball on goal enough, is far too complacent in ‘dribble penetration into the 18 yard box to make things happen’ and sometimes runs out of gas midway through the second half.
  • Skills to sustain on the pitch:  All his current strengths – when doing those things well it’s critical to continue to train in doing those things well… as he matures his timing will alter so practicing what he does well sustains what he does well.
  • Skills to improve on the pitch:
    • Increase crossing/switching capability – as in master the 30-50 yard pass.
    • Increase free kick accuracy – a player like Darlington needs to upgrade his ‘set-piece’ expertise in order to “bend it like Beckham”.
    • If he continues to play on the attacking half of the pitch (more often) execute more dribble/drive penetration into the 18 yard box; when watching his play these last few years it seems he defaults to others as he approaches the 18 yard box.
    • I’d submit this gets to the heart of the issue most have with Darlington – he’s not aggressive/egotistical enough on the pitch to instill his personality into the game.

If Darlington doesn’t upgrade his game to include that more forceful presence then he needs to move elsewhere on the pitch so that others (with near his same technical ability) can.  Basically, either up your penetration/shooting presence or move back.

I’d offer, after waiting six years Darlington isn’t going to do that – as such I’d submit he needs to learn more positional sense/awareness in playing the proto-typical #6.

This new position probably requires the Head Coach to run a 4-3-2-1 or 4-1-4-1 – not something Caleb Porter has ever run (I think) and probably a formation Bruce Arena can run but, as yet, has not.

A move in this direction sustains all the current strengths of Darlington, mitigates many of his weaknesses especially since he won’t be expected to ‘dribble penetrate into the 18 yard box nor will he need to play box-to-box.

And if the opponent is not pressing high up the pitch it will afford him slightly more time to open up his ability to make more 20-50 yard forward leaning switches/crosses.

 

Gluck: US Soccer “Inject Some Energy”

An interesting by-line perhaps; in the most recent matches against Costa Rica and Hondurus TV broadcasters, in both games, were noted as offering the need to ‘inject some energy’ as the second half played on.

For me that’s a death-knell for two reasons – one it shows TV broadcasters don’t have the nous to offer up more critical feedback for viewer consideration and two, it reinforces that athleticism has greater value than technical skills and nous of players.

I’m not going to get into a barrage of battering current players – it’s not fair – all those players were out there performing as best they could.

no… my point here is the failure of US Soccer to generate a worthy US Men’s National Team squad rests solely with Sunil Gulati and the ‘front office’ of US Soccer.

For over 20 years (since the World Cup was held in the United States) we’ve seen a steady decline in technical nous and talent but a steady increase in athletic skills of players – they are faster, have better heart rates, and can play longer…  sadly these are not skills that win games; they are skills that allow “presence” on a pitch that (may?) provide players the opportunity to win a ball against a more talented player (more technically skilled with nous).

If the United States had to qualify for the World Cup playing in Europe it would never happen.

There’s a phrase many may have heard that goes like this – “when all else fails go back to square one”.  For those who don’t know – that’s a phrase that comes from playing soccer where the pitch was divided up into quadrants and “square one” was the goal-keeper’s box.

It was used more when the goal keeper was allowed to field back-passes with their hands…

I’m using it now to “inject some energy” into US Soccer and mandate a vote to unseat Sunil Gulati and insert new blood and an entirely new technical skills development format where players are brought in because they show great skills on the ball (first touch and vision) not great speed and heart rate…

Next, the players are taught and asked to player (beginning at age 11) every position beginning with the most basic formation – so that players not only understand their role they also understand the role of everyone else so they ‘know’ and have awareness on where each of their teammates need to be in order to support that tactical formation.

After all – you really can never be a great center-back (which we need) without first recognizing what a great center-forward needs to do to beat you… and vice versa.

And yes, I have seen professional teams train – and no – I don’t see those professional teams giving a tinkers toss about that type of training – they train to win given an expectation that the player they’ve just purchased already knows these things…

So.. it’s up to US Soccer to train those things because domestic teams don’t…  I’m sure some college teams do but that’s far too late in a player development curve and as for youth teams – not likely as most youth head coaches I know, and have known, don’t care about developing players, they get paid by rich parents/guardians to win… not develop.

And as for High School, the season isn’t long enough…  BUT the ‘learning environment’ is perfect – BUT usually Head Coaches get paid more to coach private youth clubs so they don’t train in those environments.

 

Sad: USMNT Berhalter References Expected Goals

You have to be an analytical expert to recognize that Expected Goals has ABSOLUTELY NO CORRELATION to earning points, either by draw or through winning.

Statistically, Expected Goals correlation to earning points is: .3012 – translated for the common person that means the correlation is ZERO.

On the other hand – pure possession with purpose – working from the back, moving forward, in a deliberate pace (not hurrying ALL THE TIME) correlation to earning points is a stunning .9245 (on average). Data captured and measured to attain that average comes from the last two World Cups for men, the women’s World Cup 2015, the 2014 UEFA Champions League, English Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, and every measured Major League Soccer season from 2012 to 2016.

And no, pure PWP does not preclude playing counter-attacking football. What it does show is teams who consistently win play PWP ALONG with counter-attacking (packing); but it’s only those teams who can FIRST play PWP that sit at the top of all the league tables.

My same data analyses also showed the single, best, (American) MLS Head Coach carrying that mantra was Jesse Marsch. I wonder if Marsch would have accepted that position at RB Leipzig a couple of months before Berhalter was selected to head the US Men’s National Team.

PWP is NOT some fly-by-night statistical process; it garnered strong attention at two World Conferences on Science and Soccer (2014 and 2016) and led to the creation of Prozone’s latest possession categorizations.

So, Gregg Berhalter, you’re talking bollocks when you continuously reference Expected Goals; what’s really pathetic is none of our current sports pundits, like Alexi Lalas, Taylor Twellman, or Stu Holden are calling him out for it.

By the way, if you don’t believe me here’s the latest from Berhalter:

And a blurb from that article: “While they bested both of their first two opponents in expected goals – a statistical category Berhalter has repeatedly referred to – the Yanks have been cumbersome and unproductive in attack, often failing to convert long stretches of possession into clear, high-quality scoring chances, let alone goals. Their approach to fixing that was a prime topic of conversation on Tuesday, especially in light of Honduras’ stingy defending.”

Best, Chris

USMNT – NEVER really had the Calm

Good initial summary by Gregg Berhalter after the match. In my words it’d be: “US Men’s National Team NEVER controlled the game.

This has been the issue, (MY ISSUE) with the US Men’s National Team FOREVER.

You simply can’t win games at the very highest level WITHOUT CONTROLLING the game, either WITH or WITHOUT the ball.

It’s not about simple tactics and switching play, even later in his interview Berhalter said what I’ve been saying all along – we never had control. OUR country HAS the talent to CONTROL the game – we simply don’t have the coaching nous to HAMMER that message home.

I see hurried play at the U-11, U-13, U-15, U-17, U-19, U-21, MLS (League 2) and MLS – every organization sponsoring or coaching players is AT FAULT. US Soccer MUST begin to drive home that young players MUST MASTER CONTROLLED POSSESSION FIRST – before learning to MASTER counterattacking football that takes advantage of opponent disorganization.

I don’t know how many times I can be redundant – Alexi Lalas doesn’t hammer this message nor does Taylor Twellman or Stu Holden. Those three guys are probably the leading sports guys with tons of experience and tons of followers. Until those three guys go on the record and CALL OUT this HUGE weakness we simply won’t get better.

Here’s the link to the interview of Gregg Berhalter:

Oh, and LISTEN to the questions – there were only TWO good questions – What did Berhalter learn, and what did the players learn?

This idea of asking questions about individual players just SIMPLY DOESN’T MATTER. If the system is broke, how the players play doesn’t matter.

Sadly, these questions should have been asked and answered two months AFTER Berhalter first took charge.

So let’s go down memory lane.

Remember this guy? We need “spirit”

Or this guy?

We need to be quicker.

And now this guy. We need to control the game – but he’s had how many years now to engrain that into the players minds? He’s a smart guy but he doesn’t have the nous to help the players UNLEARN everything they’ve previously learned playing within the snow-globe of US Soccer.

I love my country but remain steadfastly stubborn, and stubbornly steadfast that 95% of the media coverage of soccer in our country feeds IGNORANCE that all you need to do is simply get the ball forward and score a goal.

I said it before; the guy US Soccer should have hired is:

NO other American coach has a better winning record when his team either possesses or doesn’t possess the ball on a regular basis. MEANING Jesse Marsch has the BEST RECORD in CONTROLLING the GAME – EXACTLY WHAT WE NEED!

Here’s my article a long time ago pointing out his record in Major League Soccer: My top five candidates and their ratings.

Best, Chris

US Soccer MUST Hire Pep Guardiola

If there was ever a time for US Soccer to step up and identify themselves as an International Giant, it’s in the next year or so by landing Pep Guardiola as their new Head Coach.

There is strength in Pep saying yes to this challenge too…

At NO TIME has the US Men’s National Team EVER been a possession-based team – and a test of Pep’s character would certainly come to pass if he took those reins…

Not much else needs to be said here – it’s the single greatest Head Coaching challenge Pep would ever have – and it’s the single greatest hiring action by a group of men who really, simply, don’t know what winning football is all about.

Enough Said – US Soccer – HIRE Pep Guardiola…

Best, Chris

Expected Goals – The single greatest statistical hoax in soccer analytics

Look, expected goals is a predictive model that predicts goals based upon previous goals scored.

NO predictive model uses the outcome generated to predict the outcome expected – a predictive model MUST use the underlying statistics generated prior to the outcome.

So when you see articles written by uneducated pundits (like those working for MLS Soccer . com) you need to treat those articles with the contempt they deserve.

Throughout the development of soccer statistics the one remaining constant has been the proliferation of finding individual soccer statistics that provide the ‘magic pill’ on just how to predict outcome.

There is only ONE constant in soccer – the TEAM that scores more goals, wins. Or, flipped the other way – the TEAM that prevents more goals scored against, wins.

EXPECTED GOALS, as a statistic, has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with attaining that outcome.

But, hey… it makes “interesting” and garners “clicks” and that’s what American Soccer is all about, init?

Let’s “entertain” and support ignorance – just once I’d like to see Alexi Lalas, Taylor Twellman, John Strong, or Stu Holden offer the truth about the complete bollocks they shove down our throat about what they get paid to punt…

Our country remains, and will continue to remain a second rate soccer country until the current announcers tell people the truth about just what “shite” they are offering up.

Sad……

By the way, the correlation of Expected Goals to Wins is less than .3126 – so even from a statistical point of view Expected Goals has NO Correlation whatsoever…

Best, Chris