Tagged: DC United

MLS Playoffs – Predictions with Purpose (Updated)

To the chase…  my PWP Predictability Index leveraging my Possession with Purpose Analysis.  Click here for my latest revision or click here to read the initial revision.

NOTE:  Updates for the Red Bulls v DC United and Sounders v Dallas match are at the end of the article.

The Predictability Index itself is the CPWP Index data minus Goals Scored / Goals Against and is split into two diagrams – Home Predictability versus Away Predictability.

Here’s the CPWP Strategic Predictability Index for teams at Home:

CPWP PREDICTABILITY INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 HOME

Here’s the CPWP Strategic Predictability Index for teams Away from Home.

CPWP PREDICTABILITY INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 AWAY

Note the significant differences in how the teams are predicted to perform at home versus on the road; four teams really sucked at home this year, while four teams were expected to perform quite well on the road.  

Here’s how it works; I will compare the two digit number of the home team with the two digit number of the away team.

Whichever number is higher it’s that team which is predicted to win… again… based upon their history of team performance in overall attacking and defending, exclusive of goals scored; this year.

And now the PWP Predictions:

FC Dallas versus Vancouver Whitecaps matchup.  FC Dallas at Home (0.00) while Vancouver on the Road (-.11)  FC Dallas wins.

FC Dallas key indicators are ceding possession and creating quick counter-attacking scenarios that use time and space created by Vancouver being too aggressive in attack.

Vancouver key indicators are maintaining patience in possession and not losing position in defending – they are one of the top defending teams in MLS; they will need to be at their best to beat Dallas.

Next up; New York Red Bulls versus Sporting Kansas City.  New York at Home (0.10) while Sporting Kansas City on the Road (0.05) New York wins.

New York key indicators are their attack from a number of different angles.  They are simply one of the top attacking teams in all of MLS – they need to attack, attack, attack, and hope, with all their hope, that they can keep Sporting KC from scoring a goal.

Sporting KC key indicators are their ability to defend; they are still one of the best defending teams in MLS.  If they can control the wide open attack, I’d expect from New York, and their propensity for fouling in their own defending final third, I can see some individual talent from Zusi or some set-pieces giving them the edge to win.

Columbus Crew versus New England Revolution.  Columbus Crew at Home (0.06)  while New England on the Road (-0.08).  Columbus wins game 1.  Columbus Crew on the Road (0.06) while New England at Home (0.23) -> New England wins game 2.  I offer Columbus advances over New England on away goal difference.

Columbus key indicators include being one of the most consistent teams in overall attacking and defending team performance in MLS – with this being a two game set I’d imagine consistency in attacking and penetration as well as consistency in defending the danger spaces will see them through.

New England key indicators are slightly changed with Jones on the pitch – his leadership may give the edge to a Revolution team who are, in my opinion, outgunned in almost every other category.  They are a big under-dog in my opinion but not everybody rates Columbus as strongly as I do…

Real Salt Lake versus LA Galaxy.   Salt Lake at Home (0.33)  while LA Galaxy on the Road (0.12).  RSL wins game 1.   LA Galaxy at Home (0.19)  while Salt Lake on the Road (-0.01).  LA Galaxy wins game 2.  I offer LA Galaxy advance over Real Salt Lake on away goals difference.  

Salt Lake key indicators include, as noted, a stingy defense at home and a propensity to win in Rio Tinto.  They also have pedigree not unlike LA Galaxy, and perhaps an even more veteran line-up when it comes to big games.  Lest we forget Salt Lake could have done much better last year and didn’t – they will have added energy that might surpass the emotions LA bring with them in pushing to help Donovan raise the Cup once more.

LA Galaxy key indicators are pace, possession, penetration and all around purpose that operated at peak performance for almost the entire year.  It should be noted that they didn’t collect the silverware last week and in all likelihood they could stumble here as well as they may look past Real and consider the Cup is theirs…  So arrogance is an enemy as is the continued lack of mental awareness by Gonzalez…

More to follow after the games midweek after seeing who qualifies to play Seattle and DC United…

As for my own personal predictions I can see New York advancing as well as FC Dallas but the Vancouver defense is very good as is the Sporting KC defense.

I will go with Sporting over New York and Vancouver over FC Dallas because I think those team defenses are better – and for me it’s all about defense.

With respect to Columbus – I agree with my PWP Prediction model for that game as well as the game between LA and RSL…  and in this case I also happen to think the defenses for Columbus and LA are better.

More to follow:…

Seattle Sounders at Home (.22) while Dallas on the Road (-.20).  Seattle wins when playing at Home.  FC Dallas at Home (.00) while  Seattle on the Road (-.04).  FC Dallas wins at home.  Seattle advances on away goals difference.

For me, I can see Seattle beating FC Dallas at home and on the road.  Dallas may be a bit tired for game 1 and the Predictability Index hasn’t been built to address ‘tired legs’…

At the end of the day this should be a clean sweep for the Sounders…

DC United at Home (.03) while New York on the Road (-.03).  DC United wins at Home.  New York at Home (.10) while DC United on the Road (-.08).  New York wins at Home.  New York advances on away goals difference.

For me I can see a clean sweep here as well – it may be surprising but I can see New York, riding the wave of Phillips and, most likely, the last season for Thierry Henry, all the way into the Finals.  This is not intended to diss DC United.

They are a very good team but somehow I don’t see the ‘tired legs’ syndrome impacting the Red Bulls as much as Dallas… too much at stake for a team that has invested huge money in their players and program.

Best, Chris

COPYRIGHT, All Rights Reserved.  PWP – Trademark.

 

You say you want a Revolution – A different angle on PWP and Team Performance

A superb run with five wins and a draw in six games; by most standards that is a compelling argument for consistency.  I agree and their overall Composite Possession with Purpose Index rating continues to climb.

They’ve (New England) climbed from 17th in PWP (week 5) to 7th after week 11; a superb shift of 10 full places in 6 weeks.

So in considering this giant push forward I’d like to take a different approach in how the data points from PWP can be viewed.  

This is new so please bear with me for a minute or two as I set the context.

Below are a number of diagrams referencing my PWP indicators for a few teams; the diagram being used this time is the ‘doughnut’ diagram from Microsoft Powerpoint.

The interesting thing about this diagram is that it allows me to offer up a view on my PWP data points that isn’t relative to the exponential relationship (a line). Instead, it allows me to picture the overall tenor of PWP data points in relationship to themselves as being a part of a ‘whole’; with the ‘whole’ being PWP.

I feel confident I can take this approach since my Expected Wins 2 correlation for my data points is ~.97 (R2) — as near to rock solid as you can get.

Other context points include:  

  • The teams used in this analysis are Seattle, New England, Montreal, Portland and last years’ Supporters Shield winner (New York) plus last years bottom dweller (DC United)
  • Reminder in case my explanation was a bit wordy above – the percentages indicated in the doughnut are not the percentages of those activities relative to the game; they are the percentage of those activities relative to each other with 100% being all those activities added together.
  • Source – as usual the MLS Chalkboard and the MLS Statistics Sheets
  • Gold Stars on the diagrams are intended to show you where differences occur.
  • The team name on the outside of the doughnut is the outer ring of data and the team name on the inside of the doughnut is the inner ring of data.

To begin…

PWP Doughnut Diagram Week 11 NER v MIFC

PWP Doughnut Diagram Week 11 NER v MIFC

The volume of Final Third passes successfully completed by New England (29%) is 3% points higher than Montreal (26%).  Note also that Montreal has a greater percentage of PWP outside the Final Third (30%) than New England (28%). Both of these indicate to me that New England is more focused on penetrating and creating than Montreal.

For the future I will check into these three areas when looking to see if a ‘direct attacking approach’ can be better differentiated from a ‘ground-based’ (short passing scheme) approach.

The actual volume of penetration is higher for New England as well (11%) versus (7%). And like my regular PWP analysis the data here also supports the fact that teams who are more patient in creating shots taken (6% for NER versus 11% for MIFC) end up with more goals scored.

I did ask Matthias Kullowatz about the specific shot data for New England and Montreal; ~60% of Montreal’s shots on target have come outside the prime scoring zones 1 & 2 while ~68% of the Revolution shots on target have also come outside of zones 1 & 2.  So what’s different?

I think it’s down to time and space again; though it could be the Revolution have better strikers – but when you see the DC United doughnut diagram a bit later I think it’s back to time and space; and with fewer shots taken and more patience in the final third that seems reasonable to me.

Now for a contrast that might be better at explaining individual mistakes and bad fortune more than a bad ‘style/system’…

PWP Doughnut Diagram Week 11 SSFC v PTFC

PWP Doughnut Diagram Week 11 SSFC v PTFC

Notice no ‘gold stars’; why? Because there really isn’t that much difference between how these two teams execute the six steps of PWP.

What separates these two teams in the league table are individual mental mistakes in defense – Portland sit on ten points while Seattle have 25. Through the course of this year the Timbers have dropped 7 points due to red cards and penalties – they did both against Columbus Saturday night!

In considering the ‘sameness’ of the data I expect as time passes an output similar to this could highlight ‘individual mistakes’ and perhaps ‘good/bad luck’ when it comes to rebounds and deflections – again recall Saturday night when Futty Danso deflected a shot and notched an ‘own-goal’

All told things went pretty well for Columbus, a red card by their opponent, a foul in the penalty box by their opponent for a PK and a deflected own-goal by their opponent. If I were a Columbus fan I’d be pretty pissed they didn’t win – bad luck for the Crew!

However viewed I’ll revisit this diagram later when the Cascadia Cup battle heats up.

So here’s the doughnut view of New York compared to DC United last year and then a bit further down how they look compared to each other this year.

PWP Doughnut Diagram NYRB v DCU 2013

PWP Doughnut Diagram NYRB v DCU 2013

First off – let’s not forget Ben Olsen was not fired and perhaps this doughnut diagram can also help explain why given the overall poor performance in results last year for DC United.

Notice that the team does exceedingly well in comparison to New York with respect to Passing, penetration and creation; they actually exceed New York in the first two categories and only fall off when it comes to goals scored (7% for DC United versus 15% for New York).

So I’d offer that the system Ben Olsen ran last year worked – what he lacked was a pair of good strikers.  And if you recall the Montreal doughnut earlier the outputs from DC United do not mirror those of the Impact!

They added Espindola and Johnson and shored up their defense a bit; that also included adding Amos Magee to the staff.  Remember him as the Defensive Coordinator for Portland last year (I think – others can confirm or deny that I’m sure)

Bottom line here – the system didn’t change and the Head Coach didn’t change and I’d offer that was appropriate…  now for the same diagram this year:

PWP Doughnut Diagram Week 11 NYRB v DCU 2014

PWP Doughnut Diagram Week 11 NYRB v DCU 2014

In closing:

Note the increase for DC United in the final category – goals scored versus shots on goal – pretty compelling information to reinforce that the system used last year is the same system used this year and the difference – major difference – is the addition of two quality strikers.

I’m just in the learning stages on how this new doughnut diagram will take shape – I’m pretty sure it will have at least one hole in it – I’m hopeful there aren’t a lot more.

Some changes afoot with OPTA and MLS – I see OPTA incorporated the Final Third Passing Accuracy suggestion – just need to find out if crosses are included in that metric???

As for the new MLS Chalkboard – I’m not sure how that will work if the ‘numbers’ of activities are not available to count when it comes to defensive activities and ‘touches’ for players…

And yes, the old Chalkboard still appears to exist given a separate link within previous articles but it’s unclear if this change will be a permanent change for next year – or even the World Cup for that matter…

As for This Week in PWP; if you saw my tweets yesterday you know the top Attacking and Defending PWP teams of the week; New England in attack and Toronto in Defense with the Reds taking the Composite PWP Index top spot for Week 11.  

Sporting KC, along with LA Galaxy remain atop the Composite PWP through Week 11 while the Revolution moved to 7th and Columbus dropped to 4th as Real Salt Lake are now in a comfortable position of 3rd best overall.

Finally, this view also gives you and idea of what percentage each team gleans from each of the PWP Six Steps data points in the calculation for the overall Index number.

Best, Chris

Getting More from Less… Major League Soccer

If you’ve read my previous article on Expected Wins 4 (Is European Football Really Higher Quality than Major League Soccer) you’ll know that there are teams out there who can, and do win, ‘without’ exceeding 50% possession.

In my next evolution of analysis, using the Family of Possession with Purpose Indicators on Major League Soccer, here’s some more granularity to go with that observation.

The filters set up for this effort are pretty simple – five of them to be exact:

  1. Teams who won games in MLS last year with less than 50% Possession,
  2. Teams who won those same games with less than the league average in overall Passing Accuracy (77%) and,
  3. Teams who won those same games with less than the league average in Passing Accuracy within the Opponent’s Defending Final Third (66.8%),
  4. Teams whose volume of Pass Attempts fall below the League Average (428.01), and
  5. Teams whose volume of Pass Attempts, into the Opponents Defending Final Third, fall below the League Average (117.54).

Why this approach?

To highlight what teams, and what volume of games those teams won, where ‘CONTROL’ of the game would most likely be interpretted as ‘minimized’ given a poorer ‘team performance’.

In addition, I also sense it may be a good way to differentiate between teams who use a Counter-Attacking “tactic” as part of their Possession-based game versus a team more inclined to play a Direct Attacking style/system.

The really hard part here is I’m not using video and I don’t have access to X,Y coordinate data – this is all put together using public data.

However viewed I hope you find this interpretation beneficial.

In setting the stage for the teams who did best getting more from less here’s the raw data to consider:

There were 234 games last year where a team won in MLS.

Of those 234 games, 122 of them the winning team had lower than 50% Possession.

In other words, 52.14% of all games won last year saw the winning team possess the ball less than 50% of the time.

Of those 234 games, 70 of them the winning team had less than 50% Possession and less than 77% Passing Accuracy.

In other words, only 29.92% of all games won last year had the winning team performance fall below League average in Possession and Passing Accuracy.

Of those 234 games, 53 of them the winning team had less than 50% Possession, less than 77% Passing Accuracy (across the entire pitch) and less than 66.8% Passing Accuracy in the Opponent’s Defending Final Third.

In other words, only 22.65% of all games won last year had the winning team performance fall below League average in Possession and Passing Accuracy (both within and outside the Opponents Defending Final Third).

By the way, for those curious, in only 19.66% of all games lost this year (234) did the losing team EXCEED the League Average in Possession and Passing Accuracy (both within and outside the Opponent’s Defending Final Third).

So more teams got more from less than teams who got more from more…

Here’s the teams who got more with less, and how many times they were successful in that effort:

MORE FOR LESS BY TEAM 2014

The Red Bars signify Eastern Conference Teams while the Blue Bars show Western Conference Teams (last year).

For now it should be noted that DC United took 24 of 59 Points where they performed far below league average in passing.

In addition, New England also took 21 of their 55 Points in games where they performed far below league average – and six of those seven wins came after Game 25 – in other words after they signed Jermaine Jones!

With respect to Philadelphia – five of their six wins, using this filter, came after Jim Curtin replaced John Hackworth.

In looking at Toronto – all of their five wins, in this fashion, came in the first 11 Games of the season – two things perhaps to consider from this:

  1. Other teams in MLS figured out the counter-attacking/direct attacking nature of the team and changed their defending habits accordingly, or
  2. They had an injury or two that impacted this style of play and, under Nelsen, were unable to recover from a key attacker being missed.

Of note – Chicago recently brought in two DP Strikers – is that a signal to the rest of MLS that Frank Yallop really intends to go all out in this type of attacking approach?

Finally, FC Dallas appeared to be the more counter-attacking/direct attacking team in the Western Conference – and this data appears to substantiate that.

Oscar Pareja’s approach was good enough to make the Playoffs last year – but with Houston (under Owen Coyle) and Sporting, another possession-based team, set to join the Western Conference, might we expect to see Pareja take a different approach next year?

East meeting West:

MORE FOR LESS BY CONFERENCE 2014

Pretty telling if you ask me…

A marked difference in volume of teams that got more with less in the Eastern Conference.

This provides some pretty good evidence to support those having the belief or feeling that the two conferences played different styles…

Now what?

Well, for me, over the past few years I’ve found it pretty hard to differentiate between a team that works towards Direct Attacking, as a style, as opposed to Counter-Attacking.

And to be honest I’m not sure what the difference is; at least up until now.

Here’s my draft definition on how to define a team that Counter Attacks (as a tactic) as opposed to using Direct Attacking (as ‘the’ tactical system/style/approach).

  • The league average for passes attempted across the entire pitch is 428.01.
  • So for the purposes of this effort all teams that fall below that average will be viewed as Counter-Attacking teams until I see that their volume of passes attempted in the Opponent’s Defending Final Third also falls below that League average of 117.54.
  • My rationale is this – a consistent trend of low volume in passes attempted both within and outside the final third indicates to me that the team is attempting to play longer or quicker balls into the final third – that have less chance of being completed – in other words looking to penetrate with less overall control of the ball.
  • I welcome any additional thoughts on this…

In looking at these 52 games:

  • Only one game did the volume of Pass Attempts exceed the League Average of 428.
  • In that one game the volume of Pass Attempts within the Opponents Defending Final Third did not exceed the League Average.
  • DC United had that game.
  • Only 11 games saw the volume of Pass Attempts in the Opponents Defending Final Third exceed the League Average of 117.
  • New England had five of those games, Seattle had one, DC United one, Vancouver one, and Philadelphia three.
  • Therefore in 40 of the 52 games played, using this filter, it would appear that the team that won played Direct Attacking Football.
  • Meaning the teams that performed best in Direct Attacking football were DC United (7), Toronto (5 under Nelsen), Dallas (5), and Chicago (3).

Gut-Check on my Direct Attacking hypothesis – a pretty well known/attributed Direct Attacking team in the English Premier League is West Ham.  

Of their 19 games this year every single game saw their total Pass Attempts fall below the League Average of 426.73.

In 11 of those games their Pass Attempts, within the Opponents Final Third, fell below the League Average of 131.82.

They won seven of those 11 games.

In conclusion, the gut-check pans out – it appears that the outputs from West Ham match those developed based upon what is seen in MLS.

The data also confirms that Sam Allardyce, and his Hammers, are doing a pretty good job of executing that system as well.

In closing:

Doing more with less had a significant advantage for DC United, New England, Philadelphia, and Toronto – all those teams, tops in this filter, are in the Eastern Conference.

This information also supports the views, by many, that the two Conferences are different; the Eastern Conference has more teams that were successful in doing ‘more with less’ and more teams, who were more successful, in their Direct Attacking style/system.

It seems reasonable to me that this is a way for me to better quantify the difference between a team that counter-attacks as a ‘tactic’ versus a team that prefers to play more direct.

Best, Chris

COPYRIGHT, All Rights Reserved.  PWP – Trademark

You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckpwp

 

Chicago Fire – Candle Burned at Both Ends

I’ve heard rumor that the Chicago Fire are looking to add two Designated Players to their squad this off-season – in my view – it’ll take a whole lot more than that.

In my End of Season analysis here’s some statistics, key indicators and observations for your consideration.

In case you missed it – it should model my previous article on the Fire much earlier this year:  On Fire – or a Candle Burning at Both Ends.

After working through the info I’ll also offer my thoughts, for your consideration, on some changes that may need to happen to make this team more competitive.

To set the tone here’s my standard Index rating for Chicago (CFSC) compared to other teams in MLS:

CPWP STRATEGIC INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 COMBINED

Note where Chicago line-up in my Index – near bottom – alongside that team who was relegated (erh… disbanded).

If you haven’t seen this Index before here’s a link to some simplified explanations.

If you are a statistics type person know that the Index has a direct correlation to average points earned in the MLS League Table (without using points in the calculations) {R2} of .85.

Now for the Grist… points per game both home and away for Chicago this year.  

Chicago earned 1.06 points per game (PPG) this year – 5th worst in Major League Soccer.

Results like that when Porter came in to replace Spencer saw at least 14 players moved out (quickly) and eventually 9 new starters – is it likely the Fire JUST bring on two new DP’s?

When playing at home – the easiest place to play in MLS – their PPG was 1.35 – tied for 3rd worst in MLS.

They had four wins at home, 11 draws, and two losses.

In the big scheme of things – home teams in MLS this year won 151 games – out of 19 teams – the number of wins Chicago had at home represented just 2.65% of those victories.

When playing away from home – their PPG was .76 – tied for 4th worst in MLS.

In their ten losses they averaged .90 goals per game (GPG); in their 18 draws they averaged 1.11 GPG; and in their six wins they averaged 2 GPG.

All told they averaged just 1.21 goals per game – eight games with 2 goals, 1 game with 3 goals, and 1 game with 5 goals – shutout seven times with 17 games where only one goal was scored.

Bottom line here – they really couldn’t win at home or on the road.

Do you even want to know how things looked from a Goals Against standpoint?  Probably not so to simplify (save space) – their overall Goal Differential was -10, with it being a -12 on the road.

Now for the team Attacking and Defending performance indicators with the Defending PWP Strategic Index first:

DPWP STRATEGIC INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 COMBINED

For me this is where the real grist is offered on just how poor the Fire team performance was compared to others in MLS. 

In walking through this information will there be just one key indicator that spells out the reason for bad results, or will there be multiple indicators?  Let’s find out:

Opponent possession – 54.66% – 2nd highest in MLS (in away games 55.71% – at home 52.92%).

Pretty much either way you cut it the Fire ceded possession, either by design of by default.

Not a negative indicator, by any stretch, as many teams ceded possession and did well this year – but given the low PPG – it should be a concern that there may have been many gaps in this team besides one or two DP’s.

Opponent Passing Accuracy –  78.05% – 7th highest in MLS (in away games 78.76% – at home 77.33%).

So, with a good amount of possession the opponents also seemed to be pretty successful in completing their passes across the entire pitch.

What might help shape that opponent possession is this – outside the final third opponents averaged 82.67% passing accuracy – while inside the Fire, final third, they averaged 63.79%.

It would appear that the Fire, regularly, and systematically, in both home and away games ceded space outside their defending final third.

Unlike the Timbers, when they got their defense in gear, it did not translate to a lower goals against.

Given that, it would seem reasonable that there are more issues in the defensive supporting cast in the midfield as well as in the back four itself; more to follow.

Opponent Penetration per Possession – 20.90% – 4th lowest in MLS (in away games 21.86% at home 19.93%) both 4th worst in MLS.

Overall it would appear that a higher line was employed to try to minimize initial penetration – we have seen that tactic used by Hackworth (before being sacked) and by Porter (before realigning his defensive tactics).

In looking at both home and away games spread throughout the season it does not appear that the Fire changed tactics.

So keeping in mind the terrible Goals Against this year – this information continues to reinforce that even with minimal penetration the opponents were still able to put the ball into the back of the net.  

Opponent Shots Taken per Penetrating Possession – 17% – 6th lowest in MLS (in away games 18.41% – at home 15.58%).

In studying other teams this year – those that have higher passing accuracy percentages seem to have lower percentages in this category – intuiting patience in creating time and space to score goals.

What is intriguing here is that this same pattern showed itself with Philadelphia before they dropped deeper.  In other words – once penetration was gained the opponent wasn’t likely to lose it and a result of that shows taking more time to offer up a shot as opposed to systematically looking to hurry the shots.

I’d offer that if the opponent was hurrying their shots they would take them more frequently and be less accurate.  So were the opponents more or less accurate in putting their shots taken on goal?

Opponent Shots on Goal per Shots Taken – 38.76%- 2nd highest in MLS (in away games 37.95% – at home  39.58%).

It would appear that the opponents were more accurate…

As anticipated – based upon other team outputs – their defensive tactics (in probably playing a bit higher up the defensive side of the pitch) didn’t work.

Is that down to player selection, player availability, player talent/skills or the Head Coach?

Hard to say – but in considering the length of time Frank Yallop has coached in the MLS it would seem reasonable that some adjustments might have been made along the way like you can see with the Timbers in this article – or the Union in this article.

Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal – 37.18% – 3rd worst in MLS (in away games 38.53% – at home 35.82%).

So the tale of the tape is the Fire ceded possession outside their defending final third – appear to have played a high defensive line to try to minimize damaging penetration and while minimizing penetration it also opened up their defense for an even worse overall team performance.

That doesn’t even address what communication issues/tactical issues occurred between their Goal Keeper and back four.

In summation – like the wholesale changes the Timbers made when Porter replaced Spencer – I’d expect wholesale changes for the Fire on the defending side of the pitch.  In my opinion they probably need two DP’s, alone, on the defending end of the ball and a completely new tactical approach as well…

That’s probably been pretty painful for the Fire supporters and I hesitate to offer up team performance in attack; but alas – this is an End of Season analysis – so chocks away on the Attacking PWP Strategic Index:

APWP STRATEGIC INDEX END OF SEASON 2014 COMBINED

Not as depressing as the defending side of the pitch – but to be real here – they were 4th worst overall in team attacking.  

So without further ado how good were Chicago in the same categories against their opponents were against them?

Possession – 45.68% – 2nd lowest in MLS (in away games 44.29% – at home 47.08%).

As noted in DPWP; the Fire ceded possession, either be design of by default.

Given both home and away games are below 50% it is likely the Fire did not really alter their attacking style (like Seattle has shown) when playing at home versus on the road.

Again, not a negative indicator, but additional attacking performance information should shine more light on whether they altered their tactics playing in different locations.

It is interesting to note that their average (home) possession percentage against Houston was 56.23% – and even against DC United it was 53.86%.

So it does appear some tactical things were occurring in playing those two teams – whether that was driven by Chicago Or Houston/DC United it hard to say.

But I would offer that both Houston and DC United averaged less than 50% possession this year – so it’s not unreasonable to assume that the change in possession against those two teams was more a function of those teams and not the Fire/Yallop.  Others may have a different view?

Passing Accuracy –  74.03% – 2nd worst in MLS (in away games 72% – at home 76.07%).

So an increase in passing accuracy at home; in looking at total passes offered.

The difference in passing accuracy is pretty much down to the Fire offering up more passes outside their attacking final third.  In other words – their average passes in the attacking final third are the same for both home and away games.

Which means the increase in passing accuracy is attributed to passes completed in a less dangerous area – i.e. – those of smaller value.

I suppose it needs to be said here, first, a low passing accuracy usually means one to three things – the team looks to offer longer passes that are less likely to be completed – or – the team doesn’t really have the skilled players or head coach direction to play a shorter, quicker passing game.  For now I’d offer it’s a combination of the three without knowing additional information.

Penetration per Possession – 23.20% – 8th highest in MLS (in away games 23.29% – at home 23.11%).

Their percentage of penetration is pretty high here; mixing with Portland, Vancouver, Seattle, LA Galaxy, Sporting KC, and New York.

So it would appear that the Fire looked to match penetration with the bigger boys in attack – that does seem to indicate that the attacking midfield was doing a pretty good job – but – it can also be deceptive as we know some teams looked to play a bit deeper in order to tighten space within their final third.

That deeper play results in the attacker having a higher percentage of penetrating possession at times.

Those better attacking teams were usually more accurate in their passing once they entered the final third – and that accuracy then translated to higher success rates in shots on goal and goals scored.  Meaning – they had forward talent to match the midfield talent in penetration and creation.

Shots Taken per Penetrating Possession – 20.48% – 3rd highest in MLS (in away games 17.45% – at home 23.50%).

Their home percentage was the highest in MLS – In considering outputs from other teams, this year, it would appear that the Fire were far less patient in generating shots taken given their overall penetrating possession.

Another factor here is the passing accuracy within the final third – for the Fire it was 61.28% (the 2nd lowest in MLS).

This information, coupled with a higher than normal shots taken per penetration, seems to support a more direct attacking approach – one that is less patient and more concerned about getting the shot off instead of taking a bit more time to create that extra time and space.

In looking back to my last observation, about having forward talent to match the attacking midfield talent, they might have that, but it would appear that the tactical approach to play more direct may have had more influence?  I suppose the lights will shine a bit better if their ability to score is higher…

Shots on Goal per Shots Taken – 35.95%- mid-table in MLS (in away games 37.02% – at home  34.87%).

The 34.87% is the 7th lowest in MLS – and that coupled with the lower than normal passing accuracy, plus the higher rate of shots taken per penetration seems to point, again, to a team playing more direct and taking less time on the ball.

In other words, (perhaps?)  the skill level of the players, or the tactical approach by the head coach, simply didn’t get the job done in putting shots on goal.

Goals Scored per Shots on Goal – 29.55% – 8th worst in MLS (in away games 31.96% – at home 27.14%).

An intriguing piece of info here might be this – when playing away from home, they had 6% fewer shots per penetration, and they put more of those shots taken on goal (31.96%) and had a much higher percentage of scoring a goal based upon those reduced penetrations (31.96%).

That is a similar pattern to many good attacking teams – except when it came to actually scoring the goal…

All told, they also had the 8th worst Goals Scored on the road (1.12) – which could be reasoned to (perhaps again?) three things, either a poor tactical approach in looking to score more goals on the road – not having good enough players to execute the tactical approach of the head coach, or three – having the wrong tactical approach for the players on the team?

In Closing:

Like the wholesale changes the Timbers made when Porter replaced Spencer – I’d expect wholesale changes for the Fire on the attacking side of the pitch too.

In my opinion they probably need at least one DP on the attacking end of the pitch to go with the two defending DP’s on the other end of the pitch.

This will cost money, big money – and I’d also expect to hear about 10-15 changes in the roster – a similar outcome to the Timbers a couple of years ago.

This (could) probably include a new goal keeper, three new defenders, two to three new midfielders and perhaps a new striker; for starters.

I offer the potential for a new Goal Keeper based upon considering the actions taken by Portland during the Spencer to Porter shift – there was a house cleaning of sorts and although Troy Perkins was a popular player – he was moved – and I think at that time, Perkins had  a better Save percentage then (69%) than Sean Johnson did this year.

Finally, in 2012 Sean Johnson had a 76% save percentage, in 2013 that had dropped to 70% – and this year it has dropped even further to 64%.

I wonder if the team makes up more ground next year by adopting a different tactical approach and trying to make better use of the talent they currently have.

And here’s a $4 Million Dollar question – if Yallop continues to play (apparently)  more direct, as opposed to the shorter, quicker passing game others are using exactly where is he going to get 2-3 DP’s who work more in a direct style attack than counter-attacking, quicker, shorter attack?

It’s my guess that the Chicago Fire Front Office did not expect, nor bargain, to have to completely rebuild this team under Frank Yallop.

And I’d offer they should have known something like this might happen given the poor run of success his tactical approach had in San Jose before he got sacked.

Best, Chris

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The MLS Playoff chase heats up – here’s my Quick Thoughts for this Weekend

The playoff races really begin at this stage of the year – it’s pucker time for most to even include those battling for the Wooden Spoon.

Here’s my lay down on who falls down or rises to the occasion.

First up:

Sporting KC versus Houston Dynamo – I’m not really sure anyone needs an education in team performance this year to figure out that a win here for Houston is highly unlikely. And with dropping three points to DC United last weekend Sporting are probably set to go full steam this game.

That, in and of itself, might be the exact thing Houston is hoping for.  Dominic Kinnear is a crafty guy and he likes his team to have grit and play physical.

I don’t imagine there will be a lot of free and open space in this game – given that a set-piece goal could win it if the Houston back-four can cover the wings.

Sounds like a load of bollocks, I suppose, but there is no love loss between these two teams and, Houston, as silly as it sounds, still have a shot at the playoffs; especially considering that the Eastern Conference is such a mess.

I’m not sure why I like Houston in this game but I do…  there…

Seattle versus Colorado – The Sounders should be riding a huge wave of positive emotion after that smashing victory against Portland last weekend – will there be an emotional let-down?  Perhaps – but I think Seattle want to make the best of every remaining home game knowing that they still have two games to go against LA Galaxy…

A win here for Seattle means just as much as that win last weekend in Portland – I don’t look for them to take their foot of the pedal at all…

Besides, Colorado are not part of the Cascadia trio – and if Seattle is really going to want the chance to rub salt in the wounds of Vancouver or Portland – I’m sure they’d prefer to try and beat one of those two teams in a playoff match as opposed to boring old Colorado.

Not really a reasonable thought for a Head Coach to have – but perhaps it’s a reasonable, cynical, thought for an Emerald City Supporter to have?  Others will know better than me about that.

Toronto versus New England – Another classic match-up on who possesses the ball more.

With both teams playing a somewhat counter-attacking style I suppose this game could end up being really boring unless one team gets an early goal and the other looks to press forward to draw even; making the counter-attacking approach even deadlier.

For now, with Defoe out injured, I can see New England winning; they don’t HAVE to win given how pear-shaped the Eastern Conference is but three points would do the Revolution well…

Montreal versus Columbus – One of the most boring games on the slate this weekend in the MLS – will Montreal have a larger home crowd than Chivas this weekend?  Probably – but does that team deserve it?  Probably not.  If not for Chivas USA and the complete collapse of their ownership this year Montreal would be the out-right ‘organizational laughing-stock of this League…

If Columbus lose – wow!  What a nightmare loss of three points that will be for Berhalter, Inc…

Chicago versus Dallas – An interesting match-up in betting who possesses the ball more.   Neither team really likes to enjoy possession and I’d figure this game might resemble a ping-pong match more than anything.

The challenge, again, for Chicago, will be to shut down an opponent with a defensive set-up that simply isn’t that good.

Even worse for Chicago is the speed that Dallas will bring.  As much as I’d like to believe Chicago will look to possess the ball this game it’s almost like they really can’t afford to do that given the strength of the Dallas counter-attack.

At the end of the day this game could be pretty boring – a long ball affair for Chicago looking to get second chance balls and an attempt by Dallas to possess with the slow intent to penetrate and score.  All told I would offer Dallas wins this by virtue of having greater speed…

Vancouver and Portland – Both teams need three points and both teams have a long history of playing each other.  The two things are mutually exclusive.

I look for Caleb to play a tighter game out of the back and no… I don’t honestly think he runs that tantalizing formation (never did) – it was more to prove a point that significant (player/performance) changes need to be made in the back-four to have this team compete at the highest level.

All said and done who wins this game probably comes down to who controls their emotion and discipline the best.

Who lacks it probably loses and who controls it probably wins.  In that, if history has any bearing, it is likely Vancouver who wins.

San Jose versus Real Salt Lake – Here’s the game where San Jose really need to take stock and win.  Their defense is pretty strong and if their attack can manage to put at least one past Nick Rimando then the Earthquakes could win…

DC United against New York Red Bulls – For me the biggest challenge here is how well the DC United defense can shut down a resurgent Bulls.  Too much power in attack versus a cerebral United that plays smart and handled Sporting KC quite easily last week.

If this game was simply a match between Olsen and Petke it’s an easy pick, for me, with DC United.

But Thierry Henry is really – really good and  New York does have a habit of making mincemeat pies against other Eastern Conference competition.  All said and done my gut instinct screams New York but my heart hopes for DC United.

Chivas USA and LA Galaxy – Is a pre-game prediction really needed for this one?  I’m sure Cabrera will do everything he can to prepare his team for the Galaxy – and these games have been known to be pretty tight at times.

All that said can Arena, Donovan, and the Galaxy really afford to throw away missing three points in this match-up?  I don’t see it… Galaxy should win but I don’t see the Galaxy looking to run the score up.

All for now – looking forward to the Sporting kickoff here in an hour or so…

Best, Chris

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LA Galaxy takes Supporters Shield? Chivas or Montreal with the Wooden Spoon? MLS After Week 24

The plot thickens as the weeks begin to shed away in Major League Soccer this year.  A number of teams have consistently been at or near the top of my Composite PWP Index as much as a number of teams have consistently been near the bottom as well.

So two things this week: 

  1. Checking the pulse on which teams are performing best so far, and
  2. What teams might decide to change managers and which might not.

To begin…  The CPWP Index after Week 24:

CPWP Index  MLS Through WEEK 24

Checking the pulse for the Playoffs:

Overall performance shows that the LA Galaxy, Sporting KC, Seattle, Columbus, DC United and FC Dallas lead the pack – the only team not named in the top 3 of either conference is Toronto – noted.

For me that’s okay – at this stage they have two games in hand and they also have a -1 in goal differential – it would be reasonable to offer that Ryan Nelson is doing a superb job managing a team that averages just 63.51% on completion of passes in the Final Third and only 73.92% on completion of passes across the entire pitch.

If the complete success of FC Dallas and Toronto have gone unnoticed, even with their poor passing characteristics, recognize it now – whether or not that catches up to them a bit later I guess we will see.  However viewed, counter-attacking and playing for a quick transition against teams that like to possess the ball is working (getting results) – > whatever it takes!

For now the top tier teams (LA, Sporting, Seattle, Columbus, and DC United) all average > 77% passing accuracy.  This lone statistic, at this time, is a more accurate soundbite than the percentage of possession…

In the middle of the pack (out west) there are three teams (Colorado, Vancouver, and Portland) most likely competing for the final spot in the Playoffs; the differences in the Indices are marginal – another four goals against this weekend at Vancouver is likely to see Portland drop below the raging Whitecaps.

With respect to Colorado – I’m not sure – Mastroeni has done a good job so far this year but their goal differential is no different than Portland’s (- 2).

If I had to offer a guess at this stage I’d offer either Portland (if they can learn to defend) or Vancouver have the better chance of making the Playoffs given the schedules of those three teams.

Then again – a dark horse remains in San Jose – they have some injuries but a pretty solid defense, like Vancouver (really?) – so who knows – especially since San Jose have six games against those three teams (plus) one against Chivas and one against Montreal…

At this stage I’m seeing LA Galaxy taking the Supporters Shield.

Potential Head Coach Movement?

If you recall last year 10teams either had their coach leave or get sacked – here’s the diagram as a reminder on how that played out last year.

End of Season 2013 MLS Coaching Changes

So in considering potential changes this year:

Philadelphia Union – For this year we already know John Hackworth got sacked and Jim Curtin has been working as his temporary replacement – as noted by the Philadelphia Union front office earlier this year – it is likely they hire a brand new coach with extensive MLS experience.

Houston and Dominic Kinnear –  I think there is simply too much front office support for this guy – and rightly so.  To see him leave or get the sack has as much of a chance as Ben Olsen getting the sack last year.

He didn’t and it’s not likely Kinnear does either.  Like DC United, Houston already know and are working to fix their weaknesses (the defensive back-four and a quality striker to replace Will Bruin).  Yeh… sorry – some may disagree with that?

In looking at Montreal – what a complete balls-up that organization is.   They probably sacked the wrong guy already and have already made a commitment to allow Frank Klopas to stay put at least one more year…

To improve they will certainly need to spend money on defenders as well as an upgrade in the midfield and in attack.  I guess what that means is they probably need at least 10 new players… cleaning house in this case is probably not a bad idea since there probably isn’t any locker-room chemistry to damage with wholesale changes.

Chivas USA – or whatever their name will be.  A complete embarrassment not only to LA but to MLS as a whole – what better example to exemplify the need exhume this team and excommunicate them from LA.

Move – for the sake of soccer in the United States of America —> move!  Not only was the front office pathetic – the home crowds were not even crowds – at best they were sporadic gatherings.

Why on earth anyone would follow a group (note I don’t say organization) like Chivas USA is beyond belief when there is such a well organized team already in that city.

Anyhow – back to Wilmer Cabrera – hey I like the guy and he’s doing the best he can with what he has – no need to sack Wilmer.  Besides it would be rude given a real soccer organization probably doesn’t have enough information to make a judgment that he should stay or go.

I don’t know how he finds the motivation to lead Chivas – what a great example for other Head Coaches to learn from when it comes to leading without having other leaders to support you!  Bless him – don’t sack him…

San Jose – it’s unlikely Mark Watson gets the sack – San Jose is a pretty good defensive team and some player changes this year have improved things in attack – with a new stadium they could make a managerial change but I think and sense the San Jose front office continues to support Mark Watson.

Chicago Fire – what’s up with that team?  Why on earth they would want to add Jermaine Jones to a team that already has four central midfielders I don’t know.  But perhaps it reinforces just how little Frank Yallop recognizes what he actually needs to do to improve this team.

Defense!  Their back four has been horrible for most of the season – adding Jones only makes sense if he changes his role and plays as a centerback as well as a fullback as well as a central midfielder; granted Jones is talented but can he really be ‘the’ answer when so many other gaps exist on this team?  Not likely.

All told this team probably needs four Jermaine Jones clones to have any chance of competing.  As for sacking Yallop?  Probably won’t happen but I offer it should; if anything to appease the large supporter base, like Philadelphia did in sacking John Hackworth – a move I didn’t really agree with – but that’s just me.

At this stage I’m seeing Montreal taking the Wooden Spoon…

In Closing…

It’s getting near pucker time – when a team needs to win and take three points they really need to win…

Twenty seven points for the taking is a lot – with about half of each teams’ games probably coming at home it’s likely a more reasonable target is 15-18 points for those in the Playoff chase and perhaps 18-21 points for those in the Supporters Shield chase…

All set for this weekend?

Hope so… I’ll be taking in the Sporting match against Houston as well as the locally televised match between Vancouver and Portland; that one should be a knees-up, tight one, as both teams really need three points!

Best, Chris

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Week 17 in MLS (2013 versus 2014) PWP; And what about DC United this year?

Over a year has passed since my first broad strokes about Possession with Purpose were applied to Major League Soccer; since then we’ve had one full year to look at it and how things have played out.

So how do things stack up today versus Week 17 last year, and, is something going on with DC United (besides the new strikers) that is different this year?

To begin; here’s a look at the teams after 17 weeks in 2013:

CPWP INDEX AFTER 17 GAMES IN 2013

CPWP INDEX AFTER 17 GAMES IN 2013

The top five Western Conference teams were Portland, Real Salt Lake, LA Galaxy, Vancouver and Seattle; the only team not to make the Playoffs last year was Vancouver.

Upon reflection, it was their defense that let them down, and the most probable reason why Martin Rennie got sacked.

In looking at the top five Eastern Conference teams they were Sporting KC, New England, New York, Montreal, and Houston – the same top five teams that eventually made the Playoffs.

So how about this year?

CPWP INDEX End of Week 17

CPWP INDEX End of Week 17

In looking at the Eastern Conference teams, the top five are Sporting KC, Columbus Crew, DC United, New England and New York – the odd one out, at the moment, is Toronto vice Columbus.

It should be noted that Toronto also have at least two, and no less than four, games in hand – so it’s not exactly “apples to apples yet” but should be in about 3 weeks time. As for the Western Conference, the top five so far are LA Galaxy, Seattle, Colorado, Portland, and FC Dallas.

Again the games in hand vary somewhat.

The HUGE, if not inordinately large question here is… Can the Portland Timbers turn their defensive nightmare of a season around with a healthy Norberto Paparatto, Pa Madou Kah and newly signed Liam Ridgewell, for three solid center-backs?  And, if so, does that fix the defensive issues?

Now an even tougher question…

Is the level of accuracy, last year, to be expected this year (nine for ten in teams last year making the Playoffs, based upon 17 games of data)?

I’m not so sure… And a good reason for that is the emerging clarity on how effective some teams have become (this year) in winning or drawing games with less possession…

In other words, playing to a counterattacking style, that sees some teams offering the opponent higher levels of possession, penetration, and shots taken.

So is there another way to try and answer the question about accuracy in the CPWP Index?

How about the CPWP Predictability Index – what does that offer after Week 17?

CPWP Predictability Index Week 17

CPWP Predictability Index Week 17

In looking at the CPWP PI, the numbers seem to indicate that Sporting KC, Columbus, New England, New York and Philadelphia have the best chances of winning, given historical team performances this year.

So the PI sees Philadelphia with an edge over Toronto… (reminder – TFC have four games in hand though)…

And does that Head Coach change, where Curtin is now in charge over Hackworth, reflect the Hackworth predictability of Philadelphia or the Curtin predictability of Philadelphia?  More to follow on that in a later article for sure…

As for the Western Conference; LA leads with Colorado, Seattle, Vancouver, and Portland – that sees FC Dallas dropping out with a smaller chance of winning and Vancouver sliding in…

And yet, neither Index has Real Salt Lake in the top five – could that be? Has the loss of Saborio, Beckerman and Rimando impacted RSL that much in such a short time span; and what does that say for the second half of the season? Lots of questions with no answers yet…

Now… take a look how far down DC United are in the Predictability Index (5th worst predictability in winning) – might that indicate how fortunate they have been in scoring goals or is that a reflection of something else going on?

DC United have the second best Goals Scored versus Shots on Goal of all the teams in MLS (42.12%); FC Dallas lead MLS in that category with 44.26%. Clearly the addition of Espindola and Johnson (even if they don’t play together) has added extreme value to this team.

Especially when their percentage for this same statistic, last year, was just 16.66% I wonder what the Expected Goals look like for DC United and how their shot locations may have changed this year compared to last year? Perhaps one or two folks who specialize in Expected Goals can help answer that one?

I did check to see if they have been awarded more PK’s than other teams – no – only 2 PK’s awarded so far this year.

As for Opponent Red Cards?

Perhaps that has created a positive influence in Goals Scored? Their opponents have had 5 Red Cards this year (two by FC Dallas in one game) – that is tied for 3rd highest (best/most advantageous) in MLS.

Has that helped?  I think so…

DC United have 10 points in the four games where their opponent has been red-carded and nine of their 24 Goals Scored have come from those games.

So, in retrospect – if the opponent’s for DC United “play-fair” it is (likely?) that will negatively impact DC United in the League Table.

That’s one advantage of the CPWP PI – it is not ‘doubly’ influenced by opponents being Red or Yellow Carded – it’s strictly five of the six primary data points of PWP.

In closing…

Still plenty to play for and any team, and I mean any team, can get on a winning streak – just look at Chivas USA their last three games.

How all the ‘defensive bunkering’ folds into the PWP Indices and Predictability outcomes has yet to play out. When every team reaches 17 games I’ll regenerate this article with updated information.

Best, Chris