Tagged: Defending Final Third

MLS Soccer – Fouls in the Defending Third; their potential influence in DPWP and Points in the League Table

As part of my continuing analysis on Major League Soccer, with respect to Possession with Purpose, here’s an interesting view on the relationship between fouls committed in the Defending Final Third versus Defensive Possession with Purpose (DPWP), Points in the League Table, and Composite Possession with Purpose (CPWP)…

Fouls made in the Defending Third

Fouls made in the Defending Third

Teams are ranked from most to least fouls in the defending third with their DPWP, Sum of Points Taken, and CPWP article.

Note that three of the four teams with the fewest points in Major League Soccer also commit the most fouls in their own defending third; Portland, Chivas, and Montreal – and a team that has been taking a slide in the league standings of late, FC Dallas, are also in the top four.

An issue with this table is that the number of games played is not equal – it is what it is.

Note the teams in the bottom half of the table; LA Galaxy, New England, Colorado, Sporting, and Seattle are teams that come to mind who are doing well this year in minimzed fouls as well as good standing in the league table – an odd one out is New York.

Perhaps their lower points total and lower PWP Index ratings are more to do with having average players who are more disciplined in not fouling but less disciplined in good position play?

In other words they are so far out of position that they can’t get close enough to foul in order to shut down their opponent; or, they are so disciplined in not giving away a set-piece/penalty they would rather rely on their keeper to try and make a save or rely on the opponent to ‘miss’?

I’d probably support the later more than the former – but since their back four has been a mish-mash of starters throughout the whole year it’s pretty hard to tell…

In looking from a different point of view; fouls made versus PK’s conceded, Opponent Goals Scored and Goal Differential the overall data still remains compelling – fouling your opponent in your Defending Final Third will negatively impact points in the league table…

Fouls made in the Defending Third with PKs conceded

Fouls made in the Defending Third with PKs conceded

In looking at Portland in particular; clearly the number of fouls conceded in the final third relates to the average number of PK’s conceded this year… (4.21 to .64).

Three other leaders (if you will) in this area are Montreal (3.17 to .33), Houston (2.87 to .40), and New York (2.29 to .43).  Of all these teams all three have negative CPWP Index numbers, (-0.2345 for Montreal), (-0.2741 for Houston), and (-0.0416 for New York).

The odd one out, by a slim margin, is Portland who sits on 0.0616 CPWP; a testament, if you will, in their ability to score goals…. if only they could prevent goals better.

The most compelling evidence to me however, is not pictured, the Correlation of Fouls committed in the Defending Final Third to Opponent Goals Scored is .6146 and the Correlation to Goal Differential is -.5267.

In other words there is a strong relationship between fouls committed in the Defending Final Third and Goals conceded…

Of interest for me is that the relationship also translates back to DPWP and CPWP; the correlation of Fouls conceded in the Defending Final Third to DPWP is .5495 while the Correlation to CPWP is -0.4853.

Not as strong as the league table correlations but enough of a correlation to reinforce that the PWP Indices have relevance to points in the league table without including (points) in the analysis that creates the Indices of team performance.

In closing…

Fouling your opponent in your own back yard hurts – it not only hurts team performance it also hurts in the league standings…

Those teams that do this regularly don’t appear to do well (based upon both views of data – quantitative and qualitative) in Major League Soccer…

Best, Chris


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:


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:


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:


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

COPYRIGHT, All Rights Reserved.  PWP – Trademark

You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckpwp.com




Major League Soccer – Week 25 – Portland finally show up…

While most were probably focused on some other battles this past weekend – and rightly so in some cases – the Timbers might just have shaken the Western Conference a wee bit to reinforce, that when they get their defense right, they will be a team to reckon with.

Before diving in though; here’s a link to my pre-match thoughts on all the games this weekend; some thoughts are smack on – while some are way off target; so it goes.

Back to the Timbers.

I don’t offer this lightly, for almost 80% of this season the Timbers defense has been downright deplorable (just three clean sheets) last year they had 10 clean sheets after 25 games.

Only now – with a major shakeup in the back-four, after that resounding Sounders smack-down, have the Timbers acknowledged that defense is first and played like it!

The star of the match, and I don’t do this often since team is always first, was a young lad by the name of Alvas Powell – here’s a great picture of him post game with the ever present, and highly entertaining Pa Madou Kah, in the background – picture courtesy of Little Imp (@stretchiegirl)

So before digging into some specific statistics about the Timbers here’s a link to my post-match article, about that game, and then the Composite PWP Strategic Index for Major League Soccer after 25 weeks:

CPWP INDEX MLS AS OF WEEK 25To begin, for the statistical types, the relationship and correlation of this Strategic Index to Points in the League Table (R2) is .80; pretty good.

One other technical detail that’s probably new for many – the yellow stars indicate which teams have already sacked their manager this year.

I’ll offer up a reminder a bit later on all the stars present at the end of last year.

And if you are interested in some details about why Toronto FC sacked Ryan Nelson – I’ve included this article published by MLSSoccer.com for your reading pleasure.  

To summarize, based upon what I took away from the article, Ryan Nelson was sacked due to poor team performance.  I’m not sure what that means to the Toronto front office but it’s meaning (could?) be intuited based upon this Index.  I’ll leave that for others to decide.

So now on to overall team performance:

LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders, and Sporting KC continue to lead the overall CPWP Index – others moving up or staying put in the top half include Columbus, DC United, Portland Timbers, FC Dallas, New England, Real Salt Lake; while New York, Colorado, and Vancouver took slight dips this week.

On the outside, looking in, the list is much shorter.  Of note to me, is that only two of those teams performing on the trailing end are Western Conference teams.

Can some conclusions be drawn from that?  Perhaps – but I’ll save those thoughts for when the season is completed.

Attacking PWP Strategic Index:  


For the statistical types; the R2 between the APWP Strategic Index and Points in the League Table is .74 – that’s also pretty good.

Leading the league are the LA Galaxy (no surprise I’d expect).  On the tail end there’s Chivas and the ever shocking Dynamo, especially for some, after beating Sporting KC this weekend.  Somehow I don’t think Houston is entirely out of the Playoff picture.

With respect to Portland they are sixth best in possession percentage, passing accuracy within the final third, and goals scored per shots on goal – pretty consistent in three critical attacking indicators.

With regards to overall passing accuracy they are in the top ten at 8th best.  When converting possession to penetration they are also 8th best – and in shots on goal per shots taken they are 7th best.

In looking at shots taken, per penetrating possession, (a percentage number usually better when lower than higher to infer patience) they are 11th best.

So all told, in attack, they are very consistent, and good, compared to others.

Their downfall has come in Defending PWP – here’s how the teams stack in that Strategic Index after Week 25:


For the statistical folks the DPWP Strategic Index R2 is -.66 – again pretty good but there is a tricky quirk about defending.

There remains a challenge in measuring what doesn’t happen (for the attacking team) based upon how the defense plays.

In other words some positional activities that the defense executes are never measured – what gets measured are actual events as opposed to non-events; i.e tackles, interceptions, clearances, etc…

One of my recent articles was published with the intent to push professional soccer statistical companies to begin tracking and differentiating between Open Passes and Hindered Passes, as well as Open Shots and Hindered Shots, to help measure what doesn’t happen.


“Well an attacking player decides he can’t make a pass to a player in a forward position because the defender has the passing lane closed (hindered) – so the attacker passes elsewhere (an open pass that is unopposed).

In counting the number of Open Passes versus Hindered Passes statistical types can begin to plot maps on what areas the defense is inclined to leave open (cede) versus what areas they are inclined to hinder (defend against).

When graphing those Open Passes versus Hindered Passes you can now infer (statistically measure) what doesn’t happen; i.e the ball is “not being passed successfully here”…

Put another way – if a player has the ability to make an Open Cross – that is completed.  What didn’t happen is the fullback didn’t close on the winger and the center-back didn’t clear the ball.

If the Cross was a hindered cross then the value of defending can be determined even more.  If it was a Hindered Pass that results in a shot taken then the fullback was not positioned properly to block the cross – nor was the center-back positioned correctly to clear the cross…  Again – a statistical measurement of what doesn’t happen…

As a Youth Head Coach that type of information would be extremely critical to know when developing training plans between games…  in considering how much money is involved at the professional level I would have thought the value would be even greater.   Perhaps others may have a different view on that?

I’m not sure how clear that is but I’ll try to provide a few more examples as time passes… for now my early thoughts also include differentiating between an Open Throw-In and Open Cross versus Hindered Throw-In and Hindered Cross.”

Moving on…

In looking specifically at the Portland Timbers this year – they 10th (mid-table) in the DPWP Strategic Index – not bad by all accounts.

In peeling back the Defending Indicators they are 4th best in limiting their opponents passing accuracy (75.73%); they are 6th worst in preventing their opponents from completing passes in their defending final third (66.75%).

In terms of Possession percentage; teams average 47.38% – 6th lowest in MLS.

When looking at opponent shots taken per penetrating possession it’s 8th worst (18.85%)- and the percentage of opponents shots taken being on goal is 9th worst (36.72%).

Most critical (the weakest link it appears) is that the percentage of opponent possession leading to penetration is 26.48% (the worst in MLS).  What this means is that over 25% of the time that the opponent has the ball they penetrate the Timbers final third…  All told the final indicator (goals scored per game) is 3rd worst (1.65).

So how about the game against Vancouver?

  • Vancouver had 45.57% possession – lower than the Timbers average.
  • Vancouver passing accuracy across the entire pitch was 82% – higher than the Timbers average.
  • Vancouver had 73% passing accuracy within the Timbers final third – higher than the Timbers average.
  • Vancouver had 28.49% of their overall possession result in penetrating the Timbers final third – higher than the Timbers average.
  • Vancouver had 10.27% of their shots taken per penetrating possession – lower than the Timbers average.
  • Vancouver had 33.33% of their shots taken being shot on goal – lower than the Timbers average.
  • Vancouver had 0% of their shots on goal result in a goal scored – lower than the Timbers average.

In conclusion:  Here’s what happened in simple terms.  

Portland ceded some space outside and slightly higher, within their defending third, in order to minimize the time and space Vancouver had in having their shots taken end up in the back of the net.

So while Portland didn’t park the bus they did get behind the ball, as much as possible, in an attempt to minimize risk… not rocket science – just good defensive team management.

In Closing:

Every game, for almost every team, is a ‘must win’ at this stage of the season – the ironic thing is that phrase has really been an accurate phrase for every game this season.

The earlier you consistently win games the less ‘must-ful’ they become as the season ends.

The exceptions to this, at this time, are probably Chivas USA and Montreal Impact.

Neither have a credible chance of making the playoffs – so those early season and mid-season games they lost were really their MUST win games – and of course, they didn’t win them.

As promised a reminder on coaching changes from last year; here’s the End of Season CPWP Strategic Index showing all the teams (stars) that had changes in Head Coaches during or after the season:

 End of Season 2013 CPWP Strategic Index

Note that five out of the six worst teams in PWP team performance saw coaching changes – and seven out of the bottom ten.  Will we see that sort of house-cleaning again this year?

Best, Chris

COPYRIGHT – All Rights Reserved.  PWP – Trademark


Are Seattle Sounders and Sporting KC simply too strong?

Plenty of action these past two weeks in Major League Soccer – the most telling is the huge lead in points that Seattle holds over all the other teams in a very competitive Western Conference.

Not to be outdone, in the Eastern Conference, it appears Sporting KC have also begun to open up an insurmountable lead – especially with that victory against LA Galaxy yesterday.

Are these teams so good, compared to the others, that the Playoffs are merely a warm-up session for what might be one of the most exciting MLS Championship games ever?

It’s hard to latch onto that view, this early, so in working through my Possession with Purpose (PWP) Indices and their supporting key indicators, I’ll let you decide.

For your consideration:

  • PWP Attack as of Week 19 & PWP Attacking Predictability looking forward past Week 19
  • PWP Defense as of Week 19 & PWP Defending Predictability looking forward past Week 19
  • Composite PWP as of Week 19 & CPWP Predictability looking forward past Week 19

To begin the Attacking (APWP Index excluding the CUSA v DCU game)…



Both Seattle and Sporting are in the top five for how effective their teams have been in attack; others present include LA Galaxy, FC Dallas, and the New York Red Bulls.

Yet when looking at the internal key indicators there are a number of teams that remain productive; with at least 14 games remaining, for most teams, Columbus lead the league in Passing Accuracy at 80.64%; while LA Galaxy, Vancouver, Real Salt Lake, Sporting, and Portland all hover over 78%.

In terms of penetration per possession, probably the most intriguing of all the statistics, New England lead, by a wide margin, with 30%; while Houston, Philadelphia, LA Galaxy, and Real Salt Lake round out the top 5.

Both Sporting and Seattle rest in the tail end of this indicator at 21.65% and 20.79% respectively.  Other teams doing well this year in attack, but at the lower end of penetration, also include Portland, Columbus, DC United, Colorado, and DC United.

In my view this indicator (in attack) is heavily influenced by the defensive approach of the opponent – or – the attacking approach of the team.  

Only three of the top ten teams in this category average greater than 50% possession and, again, only four of the top ten teams in this category average greater 78% passing accuracy.

It would appear that teams who spend a greater percentage of their possession within the opponents Defending Final Third do so as a result of more direct attacking than possession based attacking.

And when it comes to scoring goals only three of the top eight teams are in the top half of all teams that score goals.

As for the two teams with the lowest goals scored per game – well both San Jose and Montreal are not only the worst in goals per game they are also the worst in penetration per possession; so when your poor you’re really poor.

As for Goals Scored, Seattle lead the league in goals scored per game (1.94); with Portland, New York and FC Dallas at (1.6); others following close behind include Philadelphia (1.57), LA Galaxy, Toronto FC and Vancouver all tied at 1.53 with Colorado (1.47) and Sporting KC rounding out the top ten at 1.45.

Clearly there are plenty of teams in this league who have strong averages in goals scored; the difference maker for this category is how well those same teams behave in defense.

Here’s the Defending (DPWP) Index after Week 19 (excluding the CUSA v DCU game):



Like in the APWP Index, both Seattle and Sporting KC are in the top five – the big surprise here for me is where San Jose falls in this Index; it’s pretty clear that if they had an effective Attack, and could score goals, they would be in the Playoff race big time.

Others showing well include LA Galaxy (again); Colorado, Columbus, and DC United.

On the tail end it’s Chicago, Montreal, Houston and a much improving Chivas USA.

In terms of looking at the internal key indicators Opponents of Sporting have the worst passing accuracy, averaging just 71.81% per game, Real, Portland, Philadelphia, Chicago, DC United, New England, San Jose, and Colorado all, also, hold their opponents under 76% passing accuracy per game.

With respect to penetration, that tricky category that can be leveraged in so many ways, the leader in allowing opponent penetration this year is Portland (25.97%) with Real Salt Lake a close second (25.08%) followed by FC Dallas, Vancouver, LA Galaxy, DC United and Toronto FC; all ceding greater roughly 23% of their opponents possession into penetration.

I offer this because some teams like to cede some amount of penetration in order to maximize opportunities for quick counter attacks – that can pay off at times but in the case of Portland, this year, it has completely backfired.  Even after this weekend they still have the 3rd worst Goals Against in the league – ceding PK’s hasn’t helped.

But in comparison to LA Galaxy, who has ceded penetration almost as much as Portland, their own Goals Against sits at .94 (2nd best in MLS this year)…

As for Seattle and Sporting?

Sporting cedes the 2nd lowest amount of penetration into their own defending third while Seattle cede the 4th lowest amount of penetration.

In terms of ‘payoff’ (for that stingy final third defense) Sporting has the lowest Goals Against in MLS (.9 per game) while Seattle has the 8th lowest in Goals Against (1.33 per game).

From a ‘top of the table viewpoint’ it would appear stingy is good when it comes to minimizing opponent penetration.

So how do things show for the Composite (CPWP) Index so far (Excluding the CUSA v DCU game today)?



Like the APWP and DPWP Index, both Seattle and Sporting are in the top five – but – so are the LA Galaxy…  (all you need to do is make the playoffs…)

As for the statistical correlations after 19 weeks?

The APWP Correlation to Points in the League Table is (R2) .64; DPWP is (-.57) and CPWP is (.72).

Goal Differential (always the best single indicator) is (.87) while Goals Scored is (.70) and Goals Against is (-.63).

All told, the CPWP Index continues to remain a better overall Team Performance Index than Goals Scored and/or Goals Against.

Before closing here’s the CPWP Predictability Index (CPWP PI)…



An important caveat here; there is a clear difference in how teams perform on the road versus at home – it should be noted that Sporting KC, Chivas USA, Philadelphia, Chicago (And up until yesterday Portland) have all taken more points on the road than at home…

As a reminder the CPWP PI uses the same PWP key indicators with one exception (Goals Scored versus Shots on Goal)…

So while Sporting has the best (home and away) CPWP PI,  the team with the best Away CPWP PI is Columbus, with LA Galaxy, Sporting, Portland and Real Salt Lake rounding out the top five.

In home games Sporting, Seattle, New England, Vancouver, and Colorado round out the top five.

What’s that mean when a team has a high predictability rating and a low points total?  

I think it’s a great indicator of defensive mistakes and/or poor finishing – defensive mistakes when the team has a higher average of Goals Scored and poor finishing when a team has a lower average of Goals Against…

In other words when a team is performing at their best they should have a high Goals Scored and a low Goals Against.

If they already have a low Goals Against then the gap is Goal Scoring…. if they have a high Goals Scored then the gap is Goals Against….

Results versus Expected Results… (CPWP – CPWP PI)…

Overachieving teams – teams that have a higher CPWP than CPWP PI include FC Dallas, DC United, Colorado, LA Galaxy and Columbus Crew – in other words these teams are getting results when the balance of the other PWP Key indicators don’t necessarily point to great results.

A great example here might be where DC United have 13 points from five games where the opponent has given them a PK.

Underachieving teams – teams that have a higher CPWP PI than CPWP include Chicago, Chivas, Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto – in other words these teams are “showing” all the indications of teams that generally do well but aren’t doing well – this could be a great indicator of bad luck or some other issue where something goes pear-shaped.

What’s intriguing for me as a Portland Timbers supporter is the CPWP Index is higher than the CPWP PI; which reinforces my view that the poor results this year are not ‘one-off defensive mistakes’ but a compilation of a more systematic issue with the overall defending…  with the addition of Liam Ridgewell in the back-four perhaps that helps turn the ship towards greater success?

In closing…

Yes, Seattle and Sporting KC are doing well, not only from a ‘table standpoint’ but from a ‘team performance standpoint’; in the overachieving versus underachieving category both teams hover pretty close to zero – in other words the results they get match the expected results they should get…

Best, Chris


What did Philadelphia do different in beating New England this past weekend?

What, if anything, did Philadelphia Union do that was different from their historical averages so far this year?

If you’re reading this article first – you may want to check out this article on Composite Possession with Purpose (CPWP) Predictability Index, results for Week 16 in Major League Soccer, first to see why I am offering it.

There are many supplemental data points to PWP – here’s a few general observations / potential difference makers I see after reviewing the data I collect:

When Philadelpia has won, in the past, their opponent possesses the ball slightly more.

Philadelphia defeated Sporting KC on the road where SKC had ~66% of the ball and in this last game New England had ~57% of the ball.

The only home win Philadelphia have is against New England where the Union dominated possession (~60%).

The other road game was against Chivas USA and, like everybody else in MLS, the Union dominated possession (~64%). – Hence that ‘slightly more’ percentage is deceptive.

In the Union victory over New England, this past weekend, the Revolution had 103 unsuccessful passes across the Entire Pitch; ~64% of those unusccessful passes came in the Union defending Final Third.

In other words the Union gave up possession and gave additional space and time to New England outside the defending Final Third.

Their average number of Tackles Won supports that as well.

When the Union lose they average 15 Tackles Won per game.

When they draw they average 20 Tackles Won per game.

In this game they had seven Tackles Won – supporting the idea that they applied less pressure and relied more on defending Final Third spatial and time control than physical control.

Their average number of Clearances also support that view as well.

When the Union lose they average 20 Clearances per game; when they draw they average 24 Clearances per game.

In this game against New England they had 42 Clearances – by far their largest single game output in Defensive Clearances.

For me this also indicates that they gave away some space and time outside the 18 yard box.

Additional information for consideration…

In games where the Union have lost, their opponents have averaged 17 crosses per game with a 26% success rate.

In games where they draw the Union opponents average 17 crosses per game with a 30% success rate.

In this game, against New England, the Revolution offered up 25 crosses (fourth most of all Union opponents this year) with a 32% success rate (also fourth best this year).

But with the higher than average number of clearances, success in those crosses is deceptive – the space was made available for the cross but the crosses were less effective and the higher than average number of Clearances would support that.

Finally, when looking at Shots Taken, the Revolution took 22 shots that game with only 8 on goal – that is the most shots taken against the Union this year.

Basically, that nuance about teams that take more shots have a lower percentage chance of scoring a goal paid off.

In closing…

That analysis probably doesn’t touch on every nuance that was different about this game and perhaps explain why the Union won – bottom line is they scored 3 goals and New England didn’t – but it does paint an interesting picture that supports how the predictability of each game doesn’t account for different tactical changes a Head Coach might make.

Best, Chris

Taking on Portugal… USA – Sunday…

There is quite a bit of information to consider in how difficult this game will be – I’m not sure I’ll scratch the itch about everything but here’s some information I think has relevance for those who intend to watch the game this Sunday.

To begin…


The correlation of possession percentage to average points taken in the World cup after yesterday is (R2) .37 – in other words there is no real correlation between possessing the ball and winning – or for that matter drawing.

And maintaining possession wasn’t the issue against Ghana – it was lack of passing accuracy – and that led to poor possession.  So as others may ponder or offer that the US needs to add another midfielder in lieu of Altidore they may want to reconsider.  Perhaps if put this way it may be better understood…

The USA accuracy in passing against Ghana was 73% – fourth lowest of all teams in the World Cup.  Said differently; given the poor level of passing accuracy it is ACTUALLY better for the USMNT not to pass the ball more in the midfield – as more passes in the midfield – with a poor trend in passing accuracy – means more opportunity for the opponent to get a quick counter-attack that is more likely to result in a goal scored against.

A bit cynical but perhaps more accurate?!?


The formation that averaged the highest amount of possession percentage so far was the odd one labeled a 4-2-1-3; run by Croatia in their 4-nil thrashing of Cameroon.

Next up in the formation scheme with the highest possession percentage was the 5-3-2; which when in attack usually takes the form of a 3-5-2.  Both Mexico and Argentina have been very effective in that approach.

Third in the overall formation scheme is the 4-2-3-1 (also the most popular formation).  And, oddly enough, the amount of possession percentage that teams have had running that formation gets as high as 70% (for Nigeria) and as low as 29.75% (for Iran)

Another oddity is that the team most successful in running the 4-2-3-1 is Columbia; they have six points in two games – and their average possession percentage for those two games is 46.84%; again indicating that the 4-2-3-1 is not indicative of a game where midfield possession has value.

And the team with the most possession, in the 4-2-3-1, is Nigeria (70% possession) and they could only muster a draw against another team also running the 4-2-3-1; Iran.
If anything – this ‘formation’ is highly deceptive and it really doesn’t indicate – or even hint at meaning that the team running it will have more possession in the midfield.

The Diamond 4-4-2:  

So far three teams have employed this ‘formation’ and both Uruguay (game #2) and the USA (game #1) won their games with less than 38% possession.

In both cases – both teams were playing against other teams known for possession-based play in the 4-2-3-1  (Ghana and England).

So what about Chile, the other team to employ a Diamond 4-4-2; they ran that formation in game one against Australia and took three points while having 66% of the possession.

As for Portugal – they ran a 4-3-3; which – if you follow soccer pretty closely – is a very close cousin to the 4-2-3-1; a primary difference for some folks is whether or not the Head Coach wants to advertise playing a single pivot central defending midfielder or a double pivot central defending midfield pairing.

Viewed either way it usually means there is one true forward on the team and any number of multiple players who can act as a #10 or #8.

Bottom line here is that the formation that is publicized, prior to a game, really has no bearing on what style of approach a team might take.

An approach – keep it simple…  

The less some players have to think about on the pitch – the better.

In other words instincts built up over time (repetitive training) suggest Klinsmann will run Dempsey up top with another striker/forward; whether it’s Wondolowski or someone else really doesn’t matter.

The key is keeping it simple; if the player can afford to think less about positional play that opens the player up more to think about creating and using spaces (knowing) that his partner will be near-by — and vice versa.

The Midfield…

In looking at the first game it seemed pretty clear that the lone attacking midfielder (really) was Michael Bradley.

Bedoya added value in attack but his presence was more about defending the midfield and supporting the back – four; recall that the real wide right pressure actually came from Fabian Johnson and Graham Zusi after Ghana had equalized.

And remember a wee bit ago – Klinsmann wanted ‘game changers’ to be available on his bench – Zusi was a game changer; not a soldier…  if you run the game changers through the normal run of the game they get tired and can’t add that value when others are tired…

Next up was the tandem of Jones and Beckerman – the good thing here was both players are used to playing narrow and both players could rotate into a double pivot or, individually, control a single pivot system – flexibility….

And with Beasley, out wide left, and Johnson, out wide right, the speed of those fullbacks allowed Jones and Beckerman to drop deeper to clog the middle when Ghana had the ball.

The challenge, in all that, was dealing with crosses – as expected – in that narrow formation – Ghana offered up 38 crosses; with none of them ending up being an assist.

So what about Portugal?

In their game against Germany they offered up 21 crosses – and like Ghana – none of them ended up being an assist.

They have a stud up top named Ronaldo; all hands on deck for this guy – but perhaps the greatest danger he offers is his ability to create space for others.

A tighter back-four with support from the Midfield should help minimize those open spaces; but if the USA commits too many players behind the ball they, then, minimize their counter-attacking opportunities.

And lest it’s forgotten, that first goal against Ghana really came from a quick penetration (when the Ghana defense wasn’t set) – exactly the type of scenario you look for in a counter-attack out of the Midfield…

In closing…

Klinsmann will go with what he thinks best suits the scenarios he wants to work from in beating Portugal.

However viewed it is likely he goes with simple, strong and steady to start the game and then, flash-and-dash with perhaps some panache, to finish the game, depending on score-line.

For me that means two strikers starting the game – perhaps Wondolowski, this time, to pair with Dempsey?

More to follow…

Best, Chris


MLS Soccer – PWP through Week 14 – A deep dive on Dom’s Houston Dynamo…

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)…

APWP Through Week 14

APWP Through Week 14

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?

DPWP Through Week 14

DPWP Through Week 14

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?

CPWP Through Week 14

CPWP Through Week 14

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.


End of Season 2013 CPWP Index

End of Season 2013 CPWP Index

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:

  1. The top five “Eastern Conference teams” in this Index all made the Playoffs.
  2. The top five “Western Conference teams” in this Index all made the Playoffs.
  3. The Coach of the Year came from the team with the best overall CPWP last year; Portland.

In closing….

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.

Best, Chris





MLS Soccer – Fouls in the Defending Third Part II (Ratios to Penetration)

I hadn’t considered a Part II (here’s Part I) to this evaluation until receiving a some great questions from one of my readers, Oliver Page.

His two-part question, yesterday, centered on this “Is there some data on passes conceded in final 3rd compared to fouls. For example I would imagine that Chivas concede many final 3rd fouls because a much higher % of the game is played there. I would be interested to see who has the worst discipline in terms of how many opposition passes it takes in order for a foul to be committed.”

In trying to help answer the first question I put together this table: 

Fouls Defending Final Third to Opponent Final Third Passes Attempted

Fouls Defending Final Third to Opponent Final Third Passes Attempted

The primary sort is on which teams have had Opponent Final Third Passes the most versus the least – the middle of three data columns.

Note that Chivas, who play what many to consider is a ‘bunker style defense’, is not one of the top teams yielding large volumes of Final Third Passes by the Opponent.

Indeed, it’s actually quite interesting to see that Toronto leads MLS in this category!

What might that mean?  In order to come up with a few thoughts I needed to go back to this table:

Fouls made in the Defending Third with PKs conceded

Fouls made in the Defending Third with PKs conceded

Note that while Toronto concede the most Passes by the Opponent in their Defending Final Third they also have the 7th best Goals Against in MLS!

That’s very intriguing….  Yet when returning to look at Chivas, their goals against is worst in MLS yet they are 3rd best in minimizing opponent passes in the final third! WOW…

Why is that?  It’s hard to make a judgment call without having additional evidence but I offer these questions for consideration:

  1. Might Toronto have a better system for closing linkage to prime striking areas?
  2. Might Toronto simply have better defenders?
  3. Might Toronto simply have better defensive coordinator coaching that better understand opponent attacking schemes?
  4. With this more attuned defensive scheme in the works will they still have enough attacking power to carry the team into the playoffs?

So in going back to Oliver’s question…  Are Chivas ceding more fouls due to higher amounts of opponent penetration?

I’d offer no.  So why might they be ceding more fouls with less penetration by the opponent?

That’s a hard question to answer and it’s most likely answers to that question are better offered by others with more knowledge about the internal workings of the Chivas team.

Some additional questions I’d consider as an analyst are:

  1. Do they have average players who are making more mental mistakes than might be expected?
  2. Do they have locker room issues?
  3. Is the Defensive Coordinator or other Coaching staff running an appropriate defensive scheme that doesn’t fit the players the team currently has on their roster?
  4. Who runs the Defensive Coordinator duties for Toronto?
  5. What is Toronto doing in getting behind the ball that is different from my team?
  6. What is Chivas doing in positional play that requires a greater number of fouls even though the majority of the team are almost always behind the ball given their ‘bunker style defending’?

In considering the second part of Oliver’s question – what is the ratio of fouls conceded to opponent passes attempted?

Here’s the first table now sorted by the last column (Ratio of Fouls / Passes):

Fouls conceded to Opponent Penetration Ratio

Fouls conceded to Opponent Penetration Ratio

The team with the highest ratio is Chivus USA – tied for fewest points in MLS; next up is Portland with FC Dallas and Sporting KC.

Many different angles here on the why and I’m not sure I can capture that with the limited amount of information I have from the public domain – but in considering the list one thing is pretty clear – the standings in the league (as a whole) are not directly reflected here.

But… might they be early indicators in how things play out as the season finishes?

I don’t know yet; for now it’s probably more likely we are seeing the influence of one or two players for a couple of teams (think of Collin for Sporting) versus a systematic issue with a couple of other teams.

In closing…

It’s next to impossible to dig deeper on this statistical analysis without knowing operational and tactical statistics for each team – but as an analyst, from a strategic viewpoint, it does provide a good indication that other things are going on within those organizations that aren’t “healthy”…

If I were a Team Owner or General Manager I would surely want to peel this issue back a bit more – especially since there are indications that outputs from this analysis ‘do’ show a relationship (in some fashion) to standings in the League Table…  perhaps others have a different view?

Study game film of the Toronto FC team to watch what approaches they are taking to minimize goals conceded when facing the most penetration of any team in MLS.

Best, Chris