Category: US Soccer

US Soccer – The State of College Soccer in our United States

Editorial.

I’ll open by first acknowledging that there are many superb things going on with soccer in this country – it’s grown – not by inches in the last few years – but by leaps and bounds.

And a huge amount of that growth is down to the owners, of not just MLS teams, but those looking to bring the sport to cities through NASL, USL, and other Club level Leagues…

That said, it’s takes Two to Tango and the collective ‘we’ representing the other ‘one’ are the supporters of soccer/football in this country.  It’d be rude not to recognize how much the collective ‘we’ bring to this country in following, with their hearts, the best individualized-team sport in the World!

But, alas, with strength comes weakness – and with all that growth I would offer there is some irrational thinking occurring within umbrella of College Soccer in United States.  To begin…….

College Soccer – NCAA Rules and Regulations versus that of US Soccer and the rest of the World:

First off, being going all negative, it’s still a good thing that the NCAA provides an organized style of soccer – that’s not the issue – the issue is the inane rules and regulations governing the sport and how that not only affects plaeyrs, but coaches and, yes, referees.

I’ve heard there may be as many as 1,100 organized teams in the NCAA; that’s huge for the sport in general but what about the environment in which they play?

With roughly 1,100 organized teams that’s about 25,000 soccer players/students who are learning to play a tactically flawed game given current substitution rules.

This is not supposition, through interviews with a number of Head Coaches, to include those in MLS, NPSL, PDL, and College Soccer, they indicate the style of soccer played in College simply does not match that of the professionals.

Why?

The high volume of substitutions and the ability of a player to actually come off the pitch, get a rest, and then go back on!

And that higher frequency of player rotation results in at least three separate issues.

First and foremost is the common style of play that occurs when teams have substitution capacities that exceed what is required for the rest of the World.

Games played are frenetic, fast paced, high pressure events (across almost the entire length of the pitch) that end up resembling direct-ball festivals where long passes are the norm and results of those long passes mean a constant barrage of deflections, rebounds, 2nd chance balls.

In other words there’s minimal tactical nuance (time and space) for players to really master critical skills they’ll need when trying to transfer to the professional ranks.

In addition, it also means that College Soccer Coaches are always forced to try and run the same tactical approach/system – leaving them no room to grow and experiment with different tactics and strategies.ends up driving the tactics of the game towards frenetic play – with no concerted possession-based attacking.  Put another way – the style most often seen in College Soccer is direct play, (long passes) that result in deflections, rebounds, 2nd chance balls and disrupting tackles that often turn into rough tackles resulting in injury or suspension.

If you want to visualize a game like try to get your hands on the Seattle Sounders vs Portland Timbers US Open Cup game last night – great result for the Timbers but a blindingly poor result in trying to sell the beauty of soccer in this country.

Even College Coaches interviewed have expressed concern with trying to tactically manage teams (that need to win) in styles that go against other previous training outside of the College environment.

So why would it be good for the development of US Soccer or the NCAA (a learning environment) to have upwards of 1,100 clubs with as many as 28,000 soccer players, 44,000 coaches (both Head Coaches and Assistant Coaches) plus (perhaps?) 20,000 Referees operate in a constrained environment that completely ignores how the rest of the World plays soccer?

I’m not sure – but a few more thoughts from another angle.

As USL, NASL, and other Professional Leagues and Clubs begin to develop more players, outside the structure of the NCAA College Soccer, the ability of students (players) playing College Soccer, and then transferring to the professional ranks, will get smaller and smaller.

Meaning a potential hot-bed for talent will see fewer and fewer highly qualified coaches resulting in a lower educating environment that will drive the creation of more players with lower quality skills – with an end state that will enhance an even worse tactical style of play.

Consequently there will be less value from those 1,100 teams, 28,000 players, 4,400 coaches and 20,000 Referees… basically translating to an idea that if NCAA College Soccer continues to ignore US Soccer and FIFA rules and regulations they will become extinct.

Here’s a different question…

If the NCAA is really about educating and helping students better prepare themselves for the professional ranks of their chosen field then I think it’s about time the NCAA reorganize and educate/help their students prepare for professional soccer; if that’s a chosen professional intent.

And, if US Soccer is really about promoting the growth of soccer in America then they should begin asking tougher questions of the NCAA and how (they) intend to plot a future business plan that not only fits into qualifying as an Official Amateur League(s) but ones that can then join the likes of everyone else as they compete for the US Open Cup.

College is, after all, a learning environment – and what better way to educate the players/students about professional soccer than to have them play by those rules?

USL – Competition versus Development:

I get it – the development of USL is a good thing – and so is a more competitive environment for MLs teams to develop players in an effort to make them “MLS ready”

But after conducting a number of interviews with teams in the USL, these past few months, I’ve reached the conclusion that there are two types of teams in this league.

Teams, whether well-intentioned or not, are either 1) set up to compete with the intent to make a profit and eventually get promoted (if you will) to MLS versus teams or 2) set up to develop players for either a) the MLS first team, or b) to loan and/or sell-on as a way to try and turn a profit in a sport where profits are really hard to come by.

For example, when one team was interviewed a few weeks ago they offered that when playing “MLS team #2 type team” the player personnel fluxuated considerably – in other words sometimes you’d get players who are really trying to ‘develop’ versus players who are not regulars on the first team but do fit into the ‘first 18’.

Meaning that some USL ‘competitive teams’ are not playing the same level of quality players in “MLS team #2 teams” as other ‘competitive teams.

So while USL shows all the trademakrs of being a highly competitive league that has equal status as a US Soccer “League Division 2”; it’s really not what’s it’s advertised to be.

I don’t offer this as a negative to MLS franchises – they are merely trying to set the right conditions to get younger players the best competitive environment as possible – the problem is – not all MLS teams treat their ‘team #2 teams’ the same way.

US Soccer – US Open Cup:

US Soccer uns the US Open Cup that is not “open” —> it’s geographically controlled where zones have been created to filter and drive specific match-ups.

The US Open Cup permits (in essence) non-competitive (more development like) MLS team #2 teams to participate, and part of that participation means (outside of the final US Open Cup) a ‘team #2’ cannot compete with a ‘team #1’.  What’s open about that?

In essence what US Soccer is allowing for is Arsenal the opportunity to play the Arsenal Reserves in the English FA Cup Final at Wembley stadium… WOW!

That’s like ignoring the fact that Formula 1 teams don’t try to ensure their #2 driver doesn’t get more points than their #1 drive if a win in that race secures a Championship for the #1 driver… go figure?!?

It also means that if the two organizations get both their teams in teh US Open Cup semifinals the ‘team #1’ has to play the ‘team #2’ of the opponent in the Semi-final…. again not an ‘Open Cup’ kinda competition.

The US Open Cup is one of the oldest competitions in the United States – and it beggards belief that today, with all the professional soccer on TV we have yet to see US Soccer secure either 1) a significant sponsor, and 2) a TV contract.

What could be better for soccer in the United States than a televised fourth round match (on national TV) between a team like the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and DC United?  Or for that matter, what could be better for US Soccer than to see a 4th round match between Seattle and Portland ( a potential Final match) that occurs in the 4th round?

Seems like a very good and very reasonable way to really promote the growth and development of Soccer in US Soccer!

US Soccer – Foreign Nationals:

What is the point of foreign player limitations in this country if this country is built on the fact that competition, free enterprise competition, is the foundation for capitalism?

It’s like the US Government telling Ford Motor Company, or Boeing, Nike, or Intel that they can only employ “x” amount of foreign employees in the United States and that anything greater than “x” must be filled by Americans… how long do you think that would last?

It simply isn’t reasonable that teams in any professional league in this country are hamstrung to employ a minimum number of ‘americans’ – especially when the only real American source for soccer players gets its foundation from Colleges – where the NCAA doesn’t even play by the same rules as the rest of the Soccer World.

I don’t propose to have all the answers but in my view, I would suggest US Soccer and the NCAA take a REAL HARD LOOK at how they govern the world’s greatest individualized-team sport in this Country.

If the INTENT is to develop players to create a “learning” market of soccer that fourishes, not only professionally, but for pride at World Cup type events, in the United States then US Soccer and NCAA have some pretty tough questions to answer when asking themselves how they can get better in order for soccer to get better in this country.

If you’ll notice I excluded mainstream media from this effort – why?

Pretty much because much of mainstream media, for this sport, is behind the ‘educational’ power curve on all the nuance of this sport; (perhaps???) it takes others,  who have a passion and blog about this sport, to really plant the seed for other, more known journalists – like Grant Wahl – to call-out what looks pear-shaped.

Nevermind that some of the major news media outlets still consider Soccer as an “other sport” on their websites —> yet, now, there are more youth playing soccer than any other sport in this country… and no – Ann Coulter is not the answer either; she already proved her ignorance of the sport during last years’ World Cup!

What are your thoughts? 

Best, Chris

Gluck: Fourth Year Anniversary Edition

My thanks to everyone who has supported my web site the last four years!

It’s been a learning experience for me and, I hope, for you too.

As the new year starts I’ve got at least five new articles planned; here’s a quick synopsis on what to expect:

  • Following up on Coaching Youth Soccer Part I and Coaching Youth Soccer Part II, I’ll be offering Coaching Youth Soccer Part III – digging into which team statistics to use, why, when, and how to use them.  For those who don’t know me these three articles highlight my coaching philosophy into one three word catchphrase “muscle memory mentality“.
  • Two new individual soccer statistics:   This (may?) be controversial – My intent is to submit two new, professional level, individual, soccer statistics that could transform the player market value system.

Said differently; are private statistics companies, like Prozone Sports, OPTA, and InStat (along with player agents) manipulating the player market value system by ignoring what might be the most logical, intuitive, individual soccer statistics ever?

  • Expected Points – An updated version of my previously created Expected Wins series of articles.  A follow on to what was offered at the World Conference on Science & Soccer 2017, Rennes, France.
  • Expected Goals – A new way to calculate this over-hyped soccer statistic that brings it a bit closer to reality.
  • World Cup 2018 Total Soccer Index; to include predicting the winners after round one is complete.

For now, in case you missed one or two, here’s my rundown on the top five articles in each of the last four years.

In Closing:

  • I called for Jurgen Klinsmann to be sacked after WC 2014 because his tactics and in-game adjustments weren’t up to snuff.  Three years later the rest of the american mainstream soccer media world agreed and Klinsmann was sacked.
  • I called for Sunil Gulati to be ‘ousted’ after WC 2014 because his leadership in helping youth development and head coach selection weren’t up to snuff. Three years later the rest of the american mainstream soccer media world agreed and Gulati is out.
  • In hindsight – I wonder where we’d be in youth soccer development if we’d have made those decisions three years ago?
  • No, I do not favor Caleb Porter as the next US Men’s National Team head coach.  I like Caleb, he’s a stand-up guy and always took time to share and listen.  That said, in my opinion, he’s not (consistently) good enough at reading in game situations and making tactical adjustments that lead to better performances; the exact same issue I had with Jurgen Klinsmann.  .
  • I’m hopeful either Eric Wynalda or Steve Gans are elected as the next United States Soccer Federation President; electing Kathy Carter is a NO-GO in my view as there’s perceived ‘collusion’ between MLS and SUM.  As a retired Air-Force veteran perception is reality until proven otherwise – some may disagree?

I wish you all the best for the new year.

Best,

CoachChrisGluck

 

@USSoccer #USMNT Nil – Jamaica 1. Same as it Ever Was

The United States Men’s National Team played host to Jamaica yesterday with an expectation of seeing some new lads as well as playing the new identity Gregg Berhalter has supposed to be instilling. 

We saw new lads – but no new identity – same as it ever was.

Here’s my litany of observations for your consideration:

  • Disjointed, poor decision making and no clear and present game plan.
  • Of the new lads only Holmes stood out to me.
  • The expected leader on the pitch – the guy that controls the tempo, shape and risk (Wil Trapp?) didn’t lead and didn’t even follow.  This is absolutely stunning to me because he’s supposed to know and play in a system just like Berhalter is supposed to be coaching!
  • The game plan was predictable – ALL but two balls, offered as ‘service’ to the box, came from the wings.

Game plan, get the ball down the wings, flood the box and cross it… that’s a tactical strategy for 10 year olds’… laughable from the supposed top one/half of one percent!

In purposeful possession the US squad successfully penetrated the Jamaica final third 43 out of 68 attempts.

In some circles penetrating 66% of the time you have the ball is pretty good.  But this was against Jamaica, a team staffed with many guys who play at lower levels than Major League Soccer.

  • The 66% of penetration resulted in 51 opportunities of “service”; only two of those opportunities of service were generated from within and atop the 18 yard box – the other 49 opportunities came from crosses or attempts to penetrate the wings and offer crosses.
  • Is that predictable or what?
  • All told the 66% of penetration resulted in five shots taken,
    • One on target,
    • Three off target, and
    • One blocked.
  • Overall, against an extremely untalented Jamaica team, the US squad was predictable and pathetic!

Lest we forget, US Soccer advocates, and even brags to coaches who seek #USSF certification, that the players on the US Squad are the very best, most elite, top one/half of one percent in our country.  Really?

Throughout the game I saw great examples of:

  • Poor decision making,
  • Poor control,
  • Poor shape,
  • Poor risk taking,
  • Predictability, and
  • No triangulation in the corners, or even middle of the pitch, to create overloads,

So I ask – is it wrong to expect purposeful possession from guys who are fringe players on making the Gold Cup squad?

I don’t think so.

Gregg Berhalter has had plenty of time to drive home a message of playing controlled soccer – even if that is attempting to control the game without the ball like Tottenham or Liverpool.

It’s simple as a Head Coach – be verbal and direct is clearly state what is and isn’t acceptable as play on the pitch.

If the player can’t handle the mentality and discipline it takes to play controlled soccer get rid of them.

In closing:

Will we see some semblance of controlled/purposeful possession when Gold Cup preparation continues against Venezuela this weekend?  This may be harsh – but I doubt it.

Yes, it’s likely the US Squad will win games – hard not to when you have good athletes, but quality controlled/purposeful possession (the type that’s needed to win at the very highest levels of the world), no.

For me, nothing has changed – the US Squad and new US Head Coach continue to ride the same dead horse – changing the name and putting a new rider on the dead horse has not fixed the dead horse.

Questions for your consideration:

  • Have the guys, behind the scenes, who assess, evaluate, and help make player selections changed?  If not, WHY NOT?
  • Just what exactly is Earnie Stewart doing?
  • Fun fact – 97% of the game is played without the ball at your feet – when is the last time your head coach mentioned that?

In case you missed it I joined Daniel Feuerstein and Kartik Krishnaiyer for a post-game wrap up of the USMNT vs Jamaica here.

Kind Regards, Chris

You can follow me on my new twitter here.

Gregg Berhalter to lead #USMNT?

After an exhausting period of time (almost un-ending) I’m pretty sure US Soccer will announce Gregg Berhalter as our next US Men’s National Team Coach.

Is this a good decision?

Background:

Earnie Stewart set the tone in Philadelphia by standardizing a system of play and directing the development of players (across the entire organization) to match that system of play…. the 4-2-3-1.

A good piece, by Philly Soccer Page, highlighting tendencies of Earnie Stewart, can be found here.

Some might call him steadfastly stubborn, I tend to think of him as being stubbornly steadfast and predictable.

As a youth soccer coach in both England and America the single greatest weakness I’ve seen in American international and domestic soccer is our predictability.

Below is a heat map between Crystal Palace (left side) and Tottenham Hotspur (right side).

Tottenham, who offered 581 passes to 306 for Crystal Palace, makes far more use of the entire pitch than Crystal Palace.

Spurs players pass, turn, dribble, use their first touch and alter their facing/movement in far more congested areas than their opponent.  Doing more of this intuits two things:

  1. Players who are asked to work more areas of the pitch must have a higher soccer IQ as they have to learn to make decisions (with and without the ball) across the entire pitch.
  2. Players who are asked to work more areas of the pitch are less predictable – the more space you use the more space your opponent must plan to defend.

From a different perspective – passing distribution England vs the United States (3-nil to England):

The US Men’s National Team use virtually no space, with the ball, atop the 18 yard box…

England offered up 691 passes with > 60% possession while the Americans offered 450 passes and failed to reach 40% possession.  The US Men’s National Team ball movement was predictable and they used far less of the pitch than England.

This passing diagram, for the US Men’s National Team, is the norm not the exception.

Here’s the two most recent games played by Columbus against New York Red Bulls in the Major League Soccer Playoffs; Game 1 on the left – Game 2 on the right:

 

In game one Columbus pushed down the right side – in game two they pushed down the left side.

Their ball movement was predictable and lacked worthy penetration/movement, with the ball, atop the 18 yard box.

Possession – controlled possession.  

In the highest echelons of professional soccer teams that possess the ball more – earn more points on a regular basis.

  • France, who mastered counter-attacking soccer to the nth degree this past World Cup, still played controlled-possession-based soccer.  Three of their wins saw them possess the ball greater than 55% of the time.  The 2014 winner, Germany, averaged over 60% possession.
  • The best teams in the EPL this year considerably out-possess their opponents on a regular basis; the same was true in 2014.
  • The best teams in UEFA CL this year considerably out-possess their opponents on a regular basis; the same was true in 2014.
  • Two of the top four teams in MLS this year out possessed their opponents on a regular basis.
  • There will always be exceptions; here’s a couple .
    • In 2014 WC Japan possessed the ball 59.22% of the time but earned just one point; need I remind about Spain?
    • In 2018 WC Germany possessed the ball 71.97% of the time but earned three points.

A good yardstick when measuring possession, that can intuit higher soccer IQ, is when teams regularly exceed 60%.

If a team regularly hits this target it’s usually accepted that the team plays controlled possession-based soccer and they use every inch of the pitch.

A few examples before historical info about Columbus since 2014:

  • Arsenal has exceeded 60% possession in all but one of their six wins this year.
  • Chelsea has exceeded 60% possession in all of their six wins this year.
  • Liverpool has exceeded 60% possession in four of their seven wins this year – in the other three wins their possession was under 50%; a trend matching France…  being able to win with and without the ball.
  • Manchester City has exceeded 60% possession in six of their seven wins this year.
  • Columbus Crew exceeded 60% possession three times in 2014; they won one, drew one and lost one.
  • Columbus Crew exceeded 60% possession six times in 2015, they won five.
  • Columbus Crew exceeded 60% possession six times in 2016; they won one, drew two and lost three.
  • Columbus Crew exceeded 60% possession five times in 2017, they won two, drew one, and lost two.
  • Columbus Crew exceeded 60% possession three times in 2018, they lost all three.

Columbus has never consistently dominated games through controlled possession; only six times out of 34 games (2015 and 2016) did they exceed the 60% target.

How about 55% possession?  Major League Soccer has a salary cap so perhaps they have a better track record in earning points when exceeding 55% possession.  

  • In 2014 Columbus exceeded 55% possession 14 times; in those games they won five, drew three and lost five.
  • In 2015 Columbus exceeded 55% possession 18 times; in those game they won nine, drew three, and lost six.
  • In 2016 Columbus exceeded 55% possession 18 times; in those game they won twice, drew six, and lost six.
  • In 2017 Columbus exceeded 55% possession 18 times; in those game they won five, drew once, and lost six.
  • In 2018 Columbus exceeded 55% possession 18 times; in those game they won five, drew twice, and lost five.
  • All told, Gregg Berhalter has lead Columbus to 26 wins, 15 draws, and 28 losses when his team has exceeded 55% possession.

While having more than half their games exceed 55% possession, in four of the last five years, Gregg Berhalter has not shown a tendency to win more games than he loses.

How about in the general sense of out-possessing their opponents? 

Gregg Berhalter has shown a history of out-possessing his MLS competitors, has this lead to more points on a regular basis the last five years?

  • 2014: 53.84% Possession, 52 points, +10 goal differential, 7th overall
  • 2015: 53.47% Possession, 53 points, +5 goal differential, 5th overall
  • 2016: 55.05% Possession, 36 points, -9 goal differential, 18th overall
  • 2017: 51.83% Possession, 50 points, +3 goal differential, 6th overall
  • 2018: 52.57% Possession, 52 points, -2 goal differential, 10th overall

While earning more points than most opponents in some years Gregg Berhalter does not show a tendency to earn more points year in and year out.

In closing:

If it’s reasonable to intuit playing possession-based soccer means players have a higher soccer IQ and make the game less predictable Gregg Berhalter teams don’t really do that.

  • So is US Soccer taking a bold step to change the style and direction (regularly looking to exceed 55% or 60% possession per game) of the US Men’s National Team by hiring Gregg Berhalter?
    • I’d say no… not yet.
  • Does it appear US Soccer are at least lending credence to changing the style of soccer to match that of teams who historically earn more points through controlled possession-based soccer that also includes the flexibility to play a brutal counter-attacking style of soccer?  (Liverpool and France)
    • I’d say no… not yet.
  • Does it appear they are looking to increase soccer IQ and make more use of the soccer pitch than previously?
    • I’d say no… not yet.
  • Does it appear the US Men’s National Team will be less predictable?
    • I’d say no… not yet.

For now, I’m not on the Gregg Berhalter bus; but then again I’m not on the sidewalk disparaging his selection either.

Time will tell; the greatest asset Gregg has going for him is his ability to organize a team that wins more than it loses.

Having the capacity and capability to select players without regard to salary cap should be highly beneficial.

My hope is the US Men’s National Team learn to dominate the entire soccer pitch – when that happens the flood gates to create great soccer players in our country is limitless.

Best, Chris

You can follow me on twitter here:  ChrisWGluck

 

Gluck: Coaching Youth #Soccer Part II

In my most recent article, Coaching Youth Soccer Part I, I spoke about decision making.

If you struggle making decisions you’ll struggle knowing how to play soccer.

For what it is worth here’s how I teach decision making as part of coaching players how to play soccer.

My main training tool is Rondo.  My training plans are mostly made up of “Rondo” sessions intended to use EVERY INCH of the pitch.

The critical part of these sessions is coaching muscle memory mentality/actions players need to have relative to where they are on the pitch and how near or far the defenders are.

An expectation going in is the players have already begun to master technical skills they need to control the ball. 

Muscle Memory Mentality; using Rondo.

  1. Five vs four or three or two Rondo’s can be used to teach how to play soccer across the entire pitch.
  2. Set up controls and boundaries for ‘recycling and penetrating passes as needed’.
  3. Let them know which part of hte pitch they are working in and reinforce what technical skills they need to execute based upon defenders and pitch location.
  4. For example, if you set up your rondo session in the defending final third do not encourage dribbling skills – encourage controlled passing and quick ball movement (two-touch soccer preferred) while allowing them opportunities to ‘clear the ball’ and/or recycle the ball to the keeper.
  5. When setting up the same rondo in the attacking third encourage one touch soccer as well as dribbling skills leading to shots taken.  Also recognizing that ‘if it’s not there’ they should recycle the ball back to open space and restart anew.

All told one rondo session of five vs four or three or two can be set up to represent any area of the pitch.

To change things up add ‘tactical passing/ball movement’ requirements where the players can be rewarded with a shot on goal/point when they’ve successfully completed the task.

I ensure all players are trained in all aspects of the rondo session.

A winger who learns how a fullback is going to play by playing that role is going to be a better winger.

A forward who learns how a center-back is going to play is going to be a better forward.

As the end of the training session nears put them into competitive scrimmages where they can practice what was trained.

In closing.

I work to help the players better understand how their technical skills can be used relative to: 

  1. Decision making,
  2. Positional Shape,
  3. Communication,
  4. Control, and
  5. Risk.

It takes training to turn ‘guidance’ into ‘instinct’.

When your play becomes instinct you naturally do it quicker.

Best, Chris

Gluck: Who should Head Coach the #USMNT in @USSoccer?

I’m sure there’s many ways to determine what Head Coach might best lead the US Men’s National Team out of darkness…    

I’ve narrowed my scope of who might fit best by limiting the selection pool to those who currently lead a team in Major League Soccer.  This obviously includes a broad band of candidates – you need to start somewhere.

In today’s environment, world class national and domestic teams are great at “controlling the ball” AND/OR great at “controlling the opponent when they don’t have the ball”.

I’ve taken that statement and converted it into measuring four categories of possession:  

  1. Points per game a Head Coach averages where their team has equaled or exceeded 55% possession,
  2.  Points per game a Head Coach averages where their team has possession greater than or equal to 50% possession but less than 55% possession,
  3.  Points per game a Head Coach averages where their team has possession greater than or equal to 45% possession but less than 50% possession, and
  4.  Points per game a Head Coach averages where their team has less than 45% possession.

My intent is to try and quantify/qualify three basic styles of play:

  1. Possession-based with controlled possession starting from the back,
  2. A mixture of controlled possession and controlled counter/direct -attacking, or
  3. A team relying solely on “controlling the opponent when they don’t have the ball” and offering counter/direct attacking as a method of penetration.

My relationships between the four measured categories of possession and three styles of play are:

  • #1 with #1,
  • #2 & #3 with #2, and
  • # 4 with #3.

Its’ not perfect, but then again, soccer isn’t perfect either.

Note:  Prozone has identified ~ 7 styles of play – I try to keep things simple.

I’ve made a list of five Head Coaches for consideration:

  • Gregg Berhalter,
  • Oscar Pareja,
  • Caleb Porter,
  • Peter Vermes, and
  • Jesse Marsch

Why didn’t I include Jason Kreis?

He’s been relieved of coaching duties twice and failed to make the playoffs with Orlando City.  Something, somewhere isn’t working…  nothing personal.

Here’s their initial PPG by each category from 2014 to 2017 (excluding the final two games):

The cells highlighted in green show which Head Coach had the highest PPG (per year) in the four categories listed.

It’s pretty clear those five coaches having varying strengths in earning points relative to the four categories of possession.

Here’s their average PPG over the last three years in an attempt to quantify/qualify their “consistency of purpose” – a phrase usually associated with Dr. Deming:

So how do their teams perform against conference opponents?

An attempt to measure how well each coach’s team performs against a “known quantity”; similar to the US Men’s National team playing “known” CONCACAF opponents…

Note the 2017 data excludes the last two games of this season.

Finishing Touches:

Jesse Marsch shows best (“consistency of purpose”) in:

  • Earning points per game in three of four possession categories over the last three years,
  • The Total Soccer Index versus “known” opponents over the last three years,
  • Goal differential versus “known” opponents over the last three years,
  • Earning points versus “known” opponents over the last three years.

Who’s your choice?

 

Best Chris

You can follow me on twitter @CoachChrisGluck

US Men’s National Team Mauls the Minnow Guatemala 4-nil

This should have been the repeat headline from last week – and thankfully the last week headline wasn’t a repeat this week!

I’ll be the first (probably 100th though) person to congratulate the players on their performance yesterday – well done lads!

Now the grist – with the caveat “I’m still frustrated”!  🙂

It’s my view there’s a critical failure in US Soccer when the Head Coach can get the tactics and player selections and what positions they play that wrong in a game.

When it comes to head to head matches, where the tactics and selections are limited in their adjustment given three substitutions (unlike in an away and home leg setup) I wonder how much confidence there is in the ability of our head coach to get it right the first time?

For me, this 4-nil win is NOT a ‘bye’ for Jurgen Klinsmann!

So – next up statistics; shame on me!

I usually hold true to the form that individual statistics, even when added up – on their own – don’t tell a reasonable story about the game.

Proof is the pudding when viewing my last article and my references to crosses should make my point.

Like last game, the US offered up a number of crosses this game – none of them – I repeat none of them were successful in open play.  Yes the USMNT won 4-nil.

What can we take away from this?

I’d offer two things:

  1. It’s a slap on the wrist, to me, for falling into the statistics trap without the full context, and
  2. It’s another way to reinforce that the general tactical approach, the players selected, and what positions they played were completely pear-shaped in game 1 last week!

I’ve learned my lesson – has Jurgen Klinsmann learned his?

In closing:

  • The USMNT can’t afford to get tactics wrong in the first of two games against opponents in the future.
  • Second chances are rare in this game – even those on the pitch.
  • Jurgen Klinsmann needs to settle on a set group of starters who maximize options in tactics, not maximize options in versatility of players to play completely different positions.

Since I was pretty harsh in my previous article, about the leadership of Jurgen Klinsmann, it’s only fair I offer who I feel or think (without seeing these guys train on a regular basis) who should suit up for the USMNT.  

This isn’t about me being right or wrong – it’s about me offering up, my views, so others can throw sticks and stones at me.  🙂

  • I think DeAndre Yedlin and Fabian Johnson should be the starting fullbacks – who starts at center-back is a toss-up given injuries but seeing John Brooks and Geoff Cameron as the starters with Matt Besler and perhaps Steve Birnbaum in the wings is reasonable as well.  Personally I would like to see Jorge Villafana called back into the national team; otherwise this country is extremely weak at the fullback position – and MLS continuing to ignore that position (on a regular basis) when offering up their Best XI exacerbates the problem.
  • Hard choices to be made in midfield:
    • Is Darlington Nagbe a top choice over Michael Bradley – given the recent game?  He’s NOW a true box-to-box midfielder who’s got a great first touch with top flight passing, turning, and dribbling skills, who’s also got very good vision and improved tackling skills.
    • After seeing Michael Bradley play for three years now I simply don’t see him offering the same level of skills nor the ability to maximize tactical adjustments Klinsmann might make – however infrequent that might be.  It’s a bold move to bench Bradley – but it’s a worthy move if you want to have a better game of possession and/or penetration.
    • Others, in the mix, adding value should include Alejandro Bedoya, Lee Nguyen, Kyle Beckerman, PerryKitchen, Wil Trapp, and Graham Zusi – with perhaps Matt Polster and Luis Gil.
    • Where has Sasha Kljestan gone – and what about Benny Feilhaber?
  • Likewise at the forward position:
    • No true #9 exists in the USMNT; that’s five years now that the US has failed to produce a true #9… wow…
    • As for the others – Clint Dempsey continues to show value, and perhaps Bobby Wood and Gyasi Zardes add value with their width.  I, however, would prefer to see more of Ethan Finley (he does play for one of the best possession-based teams in MLS) as well as Chris Wondolowski (he usually has a knack for scoring).
  • Goal Keepers – Make up your bloody mind Jurgen Klinsmann – wow!
    • I used to think Brad Guzan was a reasonable replacement – now I’m not so sure.  Not only hasn’t he gotten the head-nod to regularly start USMNT games he’s mired with a team that is being relegated for the first time in a very long time…  His confidence is surely lacking!  New blood now might be a good thing.
  • Wild cards?:
    • Gedion Zelalem – Midfield
    • Rubio Rubin – Forward
    • Julian Green – Forward /// a continued unknown who got tons of press but has shown very little substance
    • Jordan Morris – Forward
    • Khiry Shelton – Forward /// perhaps the player who most physically represents what a #9 looks like – but I don’t think he plays with his back to goal – others may know that better than me
    • Matt Miazga – Center-back
    • Any others?

Bottom line at the bottom.

We live in a huge country and Gedion Zelalem is a great example of a player who flew completely under that radar – how many more are like him?

I wonder (with soccer almost being an exclusive sport now because of the travel and training costs) how many really talented players continue to go unnoticed?

You would have thought, that over a five year period of time, the United States would be able to find at least two to three players who could play a traditional #9 position!

Best, Chris

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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