Roughly 10 days before the Kickoff to the first ever World Conference on Science and Soccer held in the United States I got a phone call from the Conference President and Coordinator Terry Favero asking me if I was interested in making a presentation on Possession with Purpose.
To say the least I was pleasantly surprised, elated and nervous all at the same time; me – just a wee blogger locked up here in the great northwest; a hot bed for soccer being asked to offer my work on Possession with Purpose.
In short; after a some discussion and clarification I said yes; and four days later had submitted this presentation for discussion.
Before showing the diagrams, my first order of business is to thank Terry Favero, and then also add my thanks to some great folks at Prozone Sports, New England Revolution, Portland Timbers and Arsenal FC for making the presentation and discusssion truly superb! Wow – what a great experience.
Without further ado; let the diagrams begin…
Wrapping up the hour long presentation/discussion with a few takeaways that come to mind…
Most agreed that the critical penetration numbers to focus on were passes “within” the Final Third and not just passes that “penetrate” the Final Third.
Most agreed that crosses ‘were’ passes – though there also remains value in considering crosses separately – but they should be included in the overall analysis of passing accuracy within the Final Third.
New Soccer Statistics?
- Additional discussion centered on the potential need for a couple of new statistics – “failed assists” was one – …there is value in knowing what players offer up what volume of potential goal scoring opportuinities even if they fail – especially those that fail as a result of a defensive clearance.
- In that example the defender gets credit for stopping a cross but the player who offers the cross that is good enough to require a clearance gets no statistical credit for it… that may change in the near future.
- Another additional new statistic considered was the ‘penetrating pass’ statistic – where individual players who generate penetrating passes into the Final Third are recognized… it’s hard to measure vision but many agreed this may be a statistic that could help measure ‘vision’…
The slide highlighting the changes in MLS Coaches from 2013 to 2014 also peaked some interest – indeed – like last year – the cycle has begun again this year with the sacking of John Hackworth.
I’ve done two separate articles on that and won’t go into any more detail other than to say – my team performance indicators lean towards that move being one of senior leadership panic (with the lack of wins) more than anything else.
Granted wins matter – but the last slide really drives home how an organization, loyal to their Head Coach, can turn things around with minimal changes in personnel and faith in the system being used.
It’s hard for me to fathom a team wearing orange kits not doing good – just seems wrong to me. And after making the Playoffs last year it seemed reasonable they’d be knocking at the door again this year.
Not true – at least not yet – so this week is a Study in Orange, to an extent, leveraging many of the supplemental statistics I collect in addition to those supporting my Indices.
To get things started here’s the top-to-bottom Attacking (APWP) Index through Week 14 (represents teams with as many as 16 games and as few as 11 games)…
After 14 weeks the APWP Index offers Seattle as the best attacking team in MLS.
What that means is the Sounders are one of top ten teams in possession, passing accuracy, throughout and within the Final Third, while also being effective at taking shots and converting those to shots on target, shots on goal, and goals scored.
Conversely, the most ineffective team in MLS, at this time (consistency wise) is Houston – let’s take a quick look at the differences between these two teams for comparison…
Possession: Seattle = 51.56%; Houston = 47.52%
Passing Accuracy Entire Pitch: Seattle = 77.18%; Houston = 74.78%
Passing Accuracy Final Third: Seattle = 64.88%; Houston = 65.80%
Penetration Percentage into the Final Third: Seattle = 20.09%; Houston = 22.57% *
Shots Taken per Penetration: Seattle = 19.03%; Houston = 20.25% *
Shots on Goal per Shot Taken: Seattle = 40.16%; Houston = 29.06%
Goals Scored per Shot on Goal: Seattle = 43.53%; Houston = 19.24%
Goals Scored per game: Seattle = 2.13; Houston = 1.00
I’ve put an asterisk (*) in two categories to reinforce a great talking point at the World Conference on Science and Soccer last week; teams that appear to penetrate more times per overall possession percentage have a tendency to take more shots that are less effective than teams who are a bit more deliberate in their penetration and shot selection.
Since I don’t track shot location it would be interesting to see the general tendencies of Houston when it comes to shot location.
An exception, and aren’t there exceptions to just about everything, is New England – but only with respect to percentage of penetration per pass completed – their’s is 29.04%; considerably higher than either Seattle or Houston.
A big difference, however, is looking at Shots Taken per penetration – the Revolution average 15.55% in that category.
What that means is the Revolution do penetrate more per possession but they actually take far fewer shots per possession (patience) and in turn their shots on target are 4th best in MLS. That increase in shots on target also drives towards 1.5 goals scored per game.
But back to the deep dive on Dom’s Dynamo; if I were their Sporting Director for the day here’s some additional team performance questions and the answers as of today:
Do we score more goals per game than other teams? No; we are tied for 2nd worst in goals scored per game this year.
Do we give up more PK’s than other teams? Yes, we concede .43 PKs against per game this year; 2nd worst in MLS.
Do we concede more corners than other teams? No; we concede the 7th fewest corners per game this year.
Do we concede more successful crosses than other teams? No; we concede the 6th fewest successful crosses per game this year.
Do we concede the most Yellow Cards than other teams? No; we concede the 3rd fewest Yellow Cards per game this year.
Do we concede the most Red Cards than other teams? Yes; we concede the 5th highest number of Red Cards per game this year.
How are we doing in Defensive Clearances compared to other teams? We have the 6th fewest clearances per game this year.
Do we have the fewest Tackles Won than other teams? Yes; we have the 7th fewest tackles won per game this year.
Do we have the most Offsides than other teams? No; we have the 7th lowest average in offsides per game this year.
Do we have the best passing accuracy across the entire pitch than other teams? No; we have the 6th worst passing accuracy per game this year.
Do we have the best passing accuracy within the final third than other teams? No; we are 8th worst in passing accuracy within the Final Third this year.
Do we have the best Shots on Goal percentage than other teams? No; we are the worst team in MLS putting Shots on Goal per Shots Taken ths year.
Do we have the best Goals Scored percentage than other teams? No; we are the worst team in MLS in Goal Scoring per Shots on Goal this year.
Do we have the best Defensive PWP in stopping their Opponents this year?
No; we are the 4th worst team in preventing their opponent from successful possession, passing accuracy, penetration, shots taken, shots on goal and goals scored against this year.
Here’s a few more questions and answers…
Do we yield concede more fouls in their Defending Third than other teams? Yes; slightly more, we are 8th worst in fouls conceded within their Defending Third.
Do we concede more Goals Against than other teams? Yes; we have the 4th worst Goals Against this year.
Do we have a large Goal Differential than other teams? Yes; we have the 3rd highest Goal Differential this year.
Do our Opponents have a higher average of Passing Accuracy than against other teams? Yes; Opponents of Houston average 78.61% Passing Accuracy; that is 2nd worst this year.
When considering all the other teams and the Composite PWP (the difference between attacking and defending) where is Houston?
Through Week 14 the Houston Dynamo sit 2nd worst in CPWP.
Last year they finished 12th best in CPWP and were 5th best in CPWP when viewing just Eastern Conference teams…
How is their CPWP at home versus on the road? There CPWP is -0.4625 on the road – the worst in MLS and their CPWP at home is -0.0589; 4th worst in MLS.
A few other questions as the Houston Dynamo Sporting Director today:
- What do we do that increases our chances for winning?
- If we concede fewer Corners and fewer crosses why are we still having a higher than average Goals Against?
- What does our scouting report say?
- Who’s in the queue on the trade list to get this team better?
- Who do we have in the Academy pipeline that can help?
- When does Brad Davis come back?
- How’s the fitness level of the players?
- How’s the locker room atmosphere?
- Do we have too many average players making more than the average number of mistakes?
Obviously there are more questions than can be asked from an individual player standpoint…
But considering that almost every manager got sacked last year (see diagram below) who coached a side finishing in the bottom half of this Index, there appears to be compelling evidence that Houston needs to make some significant changes somewhere in order to get better.
Is there cause for concern?
I think so – obviously there are far more questions to ask and answers to look for but the performanc indicators for Houston, so far this year, seem compelling enough to cause concern.
Balancing the needs of the organization against the budget is always a tough call but it appears to me that individual player personnel changes are needed – where – I don’t know because I don’t track individual player statistics – the public domain data isn’t good enough.
As for the diagram above – a few additional points to make in seeing what that Index offers:
- The top five “Eastern Conference teams” in this Index all made the Playoffs.
- The top five “Western Conference teams” in this Index all made the Playoffs.
- The Coach of the Year came from the team with the best overall CPWP last year; Portland.
I’m not obtuse enough to believe that the current CPWP Index, for this season, represents the final Index. Nor do I expect that the top five for both conferences will be in the top ten of the End of Season 2014 CPWP Index.
The Intent with this Index is to ‘closely match’ the League Standings not ‘exactly match’ the League Standings. So far it’s pretty close – I’ll take that.
And since we are near the half-way point of the season I will look to pick out at least one team to review every few days (in the bottom half of this Index) to offer up answers to more of those basic questions.
Been a really busy past two weeks for me and it’s good to nestle back into a routine offering for your consideration. That being said I should appropriately note that I met some really superb people this past week at the World Conference on Science and Soccer.
It’s a small world when you meet someone who knows where Thetford, England is – and – has been there before!
Anyhow, I digress, back to American Major League Soccer and the results of Week 14.
There were plenty of surprises again this week, parity gone wild I suppose and none greater for most than Chivas, of all teams, drawing at home, erh, on the road, erh, at home on the road, against LA Galaxy; I’ll bet Arena was pretty upset with that result!
Not to be outdone, New York took three points from New England while Portland finally got a win in Rio Tinto (their third straight road win!) and Sporting spanked spurting Houston.
So who, exactly, after all those games, was the best of the best in attack?
Vancouver – aye – three goals on the road in Philadelphia saw them just edge out Portland by less than a hundredth of a point – the final difference really came down to having fewer shots on goal while scoring the same amount of goals.
It’s interesting to see that both teams actually had less than 50% of the possession.
In a side discussion, at the WCSS last week, we talked whether or not the Index had a bias towards possession; most seemed to agree that the bias in PWP is towards ‘accuracy’ and perhaps ‘goals scored versus shots on goal’; not possession.
On the bottom end was San Jose, the prototypical direct attacking team, who scored no goals even though 18% of their 11 shots taken were on goal. Of course that shouldn’t be a surprise though – San Jose are not very good on the road this year – taking just 4 points out of their current 16. More later on their passing accuracy as well…
So how did things go on the defending side of the ball?
The top defending team this week was DC United; holding a very powerful possession based team, Columbus, who had just 10 shots taken with only 2 testing Bill Hamid; bottom line here is that draw for Columbus saw both Toronto and New York leap-frog them into the top five; it probably didn’t help not having Higuain running the attack.
However viewed the real difference maker between Toronto and DC United really came down to DC United playing against a more possession based team who is routinely very accurate in their passing; averaging 79.99%; the best in MLS at this time. Well done DC United!
Another view is that Toronto was playing against San Jose who was, this week, 3rd worst in overall passing accuracy this week and 2nd worst in passing accuracy after penetrating the Toronto Final Third.
And since we know that Toronto yields the greatest volume of opponent passes in their own defending third it’s a pretty pathetic performance when converting just 53.08% of those passes.
As for the worst in defending this past week; Philadelphia takes the honors.
Vancouver had just 42.11% of the possession while being 5th worst in Final Third Passing Accuracy but they were completely dominating when it came to putting shots on goal and goals scored; 67% and 75% respectively.
In looking at the Composite Possession with Purpose (CPWP) Index….
For the first time this year Portland has taken those honors – how did they do it? A good article to read that peels that back a bit is here… some other thoughts not included are…
They had less possession yet were 2nd best this week in passing accuracy across the entire pitch and 3rd best in passing accuracy within the attacking final third.
In addition, Portland put 82% of their shots on goal and scored on 33% of those.
Bottom line on this effort was taking advantage of space and leveraging an increasingly dangerous Fenando Adi; a true target #9 with nous and deceptively brilliant foot/heading skills!
Saying that is not to diminish the value of Sporting and New York also taking 3 points on the road; it was incredible to see New York defeat a very strong home side in New England.
No-one this year has been better at home compared to on the road – and all that without Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill; while also nursing a much-maligned Red Bull back-four. I wonder if we see Ibrahim Sakagya play central defending midfielder again this year?
As for Sporting KC hadn’t won a game since May 10th against Montreal – so that 2-nil win at BBVA Compass Stadium had great value.
That being Houston is not the team some might think they are. Their current points total is deceptive; they have played 16 games and have taken just 17 points. Montreal might be at the bottom of the league standings – but when it comes to the overall CPWP through Week 14 they are higher and they have four games in hand against both Philadelphia and Houston…
Might Frank Klopas be getting things better organized as the mid-point in the season draws near? I imagine he needs to; it can’t be easy replacing the Head Coach who actually got the Impact into the Playoffs, last year, at the expense of the team you just got fired from.
We are nearing the mid-season point and the overall Composite PWP continues to take shape.
For me, it’s still too early to try and leverage PWP as a predictive model (need at least 17 games for each team really) – that being said I might have to purge Goals Scored from the Index to really put it to test – I’ll do that after week 20 and see what the Expected Wins relationship looks like…
Next Up – MLS Soccer – PWP through Week 14 – Tomorrow…