Over the past month or so Tim, @7amkickoff, and I have been having some great discussions about soccer, statistics, and the ways or means in how to use statistics to better communicate what may be happening on the pitch outside of what may normally be seen by supporters.
I’m not sure we’ve cracked the nut completely but these discussions have spurred me to come up with some other ways to show the strengths and weaknesses of statistics in soccer and what key indicators may better tell the story of a team exclusive of Goals Scored or Goals Against.
My article today is an attempt to do that.
In setting the stage, I feel it is worthy to reinforce that the pioneering of soccer statistics is not just about one or two people; I’m aware of many folks trying to help others better understand the nuance of soccer in a variety of different ways.
But with all that hard work, by people across the pond, and now here, recently in the US, I think some of the well-intended efforts have strayed off the mark.
Why? As much as it pains me to say this I blame Moneyball relative to baseball statistical thinking and trying to apply the event statistical thinking of baseball to the concepts of statistical measurement in soccer.
Soccer is not a game played in series (like baseball) it’s a fluid game played with continuous, sometimes random decision making, all with the intent to possess the ball, retain and move the ball, penetrate, create, take shots, put them on target and score goals.
And at any time, be it a Coaching decision, Referee decision, Assistant Referee decision, or a split second decision, by any player, either with or without the ball, can influence the outcome of a game.
Therefore, statistics, single statistics, simply miss the mark on translating the nuance of soccer to the general supporter, and as such, are – on the surface – flawed if used (alone) to evaluate the market value of a player.
To put this into perspective, ignoring Coaching or Referee decisions, here’s a rundown on the Correlations (r’s) of the three best Attacking r’s for each team in the English Premier League.
Caveat: The statistics are either measured by volume (quantity) or by percentage of accuracy (quality) to Points Earned in the League Table over the span of 21 games, one game at a time; these are not Aggregate r’s.
Said another way, this is NOT a measurement relative to winning or losing… it’s a measurement relative to winning, drawing, or losing (points earned).
- Chelsea: Goals Scored (.46) Shots on Goal per Shots Taken (.30) Shots on Goal (.18)
- Burnley: Shots on Goal per Shots Taken (.46) Goals Scored (.44) Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (.40)
- Man City: Opponent Total Passes (.59) Goals Scored (.58) Opponent Total Passes Completed (.54)
- Newcastle: Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (.60) Goals Scored (.52) Passes Completed Final 1/3 per Passes Completed Entire Pitch (.49)
- Southampton: Goals Scored (.58) Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (.58) Shots Taken per Passes Completed Final 1/3 (.46)
- Liverpool: Goals Scored (.66) Shots Taken per Passes Completed Final 1/3 (.52) Opponent Possession Percentage (.43)
- Crystal Palace: Goal Scored (.67) Shots Taken per Passes Completed Final 1/3 (.62) Shots Taken (.53)
- Arsenal: Goals Scored (.60) Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (.41) Shots Taken per Passes Completed Final Third (.20)
- Spurs: Goals Scored (.67) Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (.65) Shots on Goal (.46)
- West Ham: Goals Scored (.76) Shots on Goal (.44) Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (.43)
- Sunderland: Goals Scored (.61) Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (.40) Passes Completed Final 1/3 per Passes Completed Entire Pitch (.38)
- West Brom: Shots on Goal per Shots Taken (.45) Passes Completed Final 1/3 per Passes Completed Entire Pitch (.45) Goals Scored (.44)
- Aston Villa: Goals Scored (.76) Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (.46) Shots on Goal per Shots Taken (.41)
- Stoke City: Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (.81) Goals Scored (.68) Opponent Possession Percentage (.50)
- Hull City: Goals Scored (.63) Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (.59) Shots on Goal (.36)
- QPR: Goals Scored (.68) Passes Completed Final 1/3 per Passes Completed Entire Pitch (.56) Shots on Goal (.44)
- Everton: Shots Taken per Passes Completed Final Third (.71) Goals Scored (.60) Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (.34)
- Leicester City: Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (.74) Goals Scored (.53) Opponent Possession Percentage (.31)
- Swansea: Shots on Goal per Shots Taken (.52) Goals Scored (.48) Shots on Goal (.40)
- Man United: Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (.69) Goals Scored (.62) Shots on Goal per Shots Taken (.28)
What’s that mean?
For the most part what this means is that no two teams show the same consistency of pattern in what single (game to game) quantity or quality indicators best represent team performance in Attacking.
Therefore – the individual player statistics behind these values have a different meaning (amount of influence) in whether a team wins, draws, or loses.
In addition, while Goals Scored (in bold) appears as a relevant indicator it is not the most relevant indicator for every team. Reinforcing that teams, in attacking, behave differently with respect to earning points in the League Table.
Of additional note is that the r for eight of those teams is less than (.60) and only two teams show an r greater than (.70).
Finally, the single indicators (either by volume or by ratio) that fit into the top three, exclusive of Goals Scored, are:
- Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (thirteen times)
- Shots on Goal per Shots Taken (six times)
- Shots on Goal (six times)
- Shots Taken per Passes Completed Final 1/3 (five times)
- Passes Completed Final 1/3 per Passes Completed Entire Pitch (four times)
- Opponent Passing Percentage (three times)
- Opponent Total Passes (once)
- Opponent Total Passes Completed (once)
- Shots Taken (once)
What’s intriguing is that three Defending Indicators appear; Opponent Passing Percentage, Opponent Total Passes and Opponent Total Passes Completed.
With all those variety of different attacking r values, it’s pretty clear it simply isn’t all about scoring goals (getting a man on base and moving them forward)… therefore the market value used to assess that players value should be questioned if it doesn’t consider outside factors that influence output…
In other words, it’s about a variety of different ways and means to do well – even (in a small way) about not possessing the ball so even passing accuracy is influenced – somewhat – but a head coaching tactical decision.
But wait, there’s more:
All those indicators above show the top three r’s for a team when attacking.
There’s a whole side of the game that is missed with those – and that’s defending.
So here’s the top three, best negative (inverse) r’s compared to Points Earned in the League Table, for each team in the English Premier League:
- Chelsea: Opponent Goals Scored (-.51) Opponent Shots on Goal (-.43) Opponent % of Success Passes Final 1/3 (-.42)
- Burnley: Opponent Goals Scored (-.59) Total Passes Completed (-.55) Total Passes (-.54)
- Man City: Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (-.67) Opponent Goals Scored (-.53) Opponent Passes Completed Final 1/3 per Passes Completed Entire Pitch (-.43)
- Newcastle: Opponent Goals Scored (-.57) Passing Accuracy (-.44) Total Passes (-.43)
- Southampton: Opponent Goals Scored (-.72) Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (-.63) Opponent Shots on Goal per Shots Taken (-.35)
- Liverpool: Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (-.67) Opponent Goals Scored (-.60) Passing Accuracy (-.46)
- Crystal Palace: Opponent Goal Scored (-.42) Opponent Shots on Goal (-.37) Opponent Shots on Goal per Shots Taken (-.41)
- Arsenal: Opponent Goals Scored (-.86) Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (-.64) Opponent Shots Taken (-.47)
- Spurs: Opponent Goals Scored (-.52) Opponent Shots on Goal (-.43) Opponent Shots on Goal per Shots Taken (-.42)
- West Ham: Opponent Goals Scored (-.66) Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (-.50) Opponent Shots on Goal (-.48)
- Sunderland: Opponent Shots Taken (-.50) Total Passes Completed (-.40) Total Passes (-.39)
- West Brom: Opponent Goals Scored (-.80) Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (-.64) Opponent Shots on Goal (-.57)
- Aston Villa: Opponent Goals Scored (-.60) Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (-.55) Passing Accuracy (-.37)
- Stoke City: Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (-.70) Total Passes (-.60) Total Passes Completed (-.60)
- Hull City: Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (-.60) Opponent Goals Scored (-.57) Opponent Total Passes (-.40)
- QPR: Opponent Goals Scored (-.55) Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (-.42) Opponent Shots on Goal (-.35)
- Everton: Opponent Goals Scored (-.57) Passes Completed Final 1/3 per Passes Completed Entire Pitch (-.56) Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (-.52)
- Leicester City: Opponent Shots on Goal per Shots Taken (-.54) Opponent Goals Scored (-.47) Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (-.42)
- Swansea: Opponent Goals Scored (-.72) Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (-.66) Opponent Shots on Goal (-.59)
- Man United: Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (-.57) Opponent Goals Scored (-.47) Passes Completed Final 1/3 per Passes Completed Entire Pitch (-.36)
What’s that mean?
Again, for the most part, no two teams show the same consistency of pattern in what single (game to game) quantity or quality indicators best represent team performance in Defending.
Therefore – the individual player statistics behind these values have a different meaning (amount of influence) in whether a team wins, draws, or loses.
In addition, while Opponent Goals Scored (in bold) appears as a relevant indicator it is not the most relevant indicator for every team. Reinforcing that teams, in defending, behave differently with respect to earning points in the League Table.
Of additional note is that the r for eleven of those teams is less than (-.60) and only four teams show an r2 greater than -.70.
Also, Opponent Goals Scored does not appear in the top three single defending indicators for two teams, Stoke City and Sunderland.
Finally, the single indicators (either by volume or by ratio) that fit into the top three, exclusive of Opponent Goals Scored, are:
- Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (fourteen times)
- Opponent Shots on Goal (eight times)
- Opponent Shots on Goal per Shots Taken (four times)
- Total Passes (four times)
- Total Passes Completed (three times)
- Passing Accuracy (three times)
- Passes Completed Final 1/3 per Passes Completed Entire Pitch (twice)
- Opponent Percentage of Successful Passes Final 1/3 (once)
- Opponent Shots Taken (once)
- Opponent Total Passes (once)
- Opponent Passes Completed Final Third per Passes Completed Entire Pitch (once)
A few thoughts here to go with some of these indicators:
Most recognize that a negative r means there is an inverse relationship – in other words you get more with less or you get less with more.
What is intriguing is that Attacking Total Passes appears four times while Attacking Total Passes Completed and Attacking Passing Accuracy appear three times.
Meaning, as those teams have less overall Passes Attempted, Passes Completed or lower Accuracy they are more likely to earn points. Imagine that sort of logic applying to baseball – where a team who, sometimes, puts less men on base is more likely to win!
Finally, with the variety of defending r values this also seems pretty clear that earning points is not just about putting a man on base and moving them forward, and in some cases it may even be about not possessing the ball!?!
Single statistics have value – but they should be offered up, in context, with relation to other things that occur in the game of soccer.
Not enough writers do that – they simply offer up individual statistics as if they are the panacea of greatness… the more they do this the more ingrained most soccer supporters become in individual statistics that over-value a player.
And the more the media does it the more likely the supporters will become disenchanted with front office decisions that don’t make sense based upon those high-visibility individual statistics…
I’m not a Moneyball guy for soccer – never have been – and to me that line of thinking is flawed (as it applies to individual statistics in baseball).
What’s that mean??? (Editorial)
After a great question offered up in the comments section I think I should clarify what I mean by that with respect to soccer.
When I read Moneyball I was more focused on the individual statistics part of the game that were used to generate market value than the ‘economic state’ of buying and selling players that might lead to more wins…
That being said, I am not saying that you can’t measure the value of a player in soccer – it can be done but it needs to be done after considering teammates, opposing players, and at least the Head Coach of the team the player plays for.
Modern day soccer statistics, for the most part, don’t measure the appropriate level of influence teammates, opposing players, and Head Coaching tactics – as such when I say I’m not a Moneyball guy when it comes to soccer it really means I don’t buy all that crap about tackles, clearances, goals scored, etc…
I value players relative to team outputs and I strongly feel and think the more media and supporters who understand this about soccer the less frustration they will in blaming or praising one individual player over another player.
I hope that makes sense???
Anyhow, an example if you will…
A player with many tackles or clearances is simply a player with many tackles or clearances – it doesn’t mean they are better or worse than another player with fewer tackles or fewer clearances.
And… actually, I could make a reasonable argument that a player with many tackles or clearances is actually a worse player… why?
For one reason – if an opposing head coach knows that a player on the other side is weak – what do you think that head coach will want his players to do?
Drive or pass the ball towards the weaker player – as such – that increase volume of tackles or clearances will naturally increase that weaker players defending statistics simply because of increased volume!!!!
Bottom line here is that individual tackles or clearances can be over-valued or under-valued – as such – as an individual statistic it’s relevance to a player being better or worse than another player is flawed…
I would offer more individual statistics need to be created for players that better reflect how those statistics relate to points earned.
It’s that type of reporting and analyses that should help others better understand the nuance of soccer and that it isn’t just all about scoring goals.
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You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckpwp
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:
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.”
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.
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:
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?
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Orange uniforms are normally considered a great color for a couple of reasons – the first team that ever comes to mind when you see Orange are the Dutch, (Holland/Netherlands) and if you watched the World Cup 2014 they reinforced just how strong and (to be feared) the men in Orange should be.
Another, less obvious reason for Orange is simply this – the color stands out on a green pitch – the more your team uniform stands out, from the pitch, the more likely you are to pick out your teammate just a tad bit quicker… that’s why I never get why teams choose Green!
However you view the kit color doesn’t matter today.
What matters is trying to better understand the weaknesses that have a strangle hold on Houston and what things supporters of the Orange might want to track in hopes that their results improve.
Hopefully, as I walk through my Possession with Purpose, and supporting data analyses, I can show where weaknesses exist, and then in turn offer potential opportunities for improvement.
Bottom line up front (BLUF) = To be clear – The frequency of opponent penetration into the Dynamo defending third has absolutely nothing to do with their current issues.
The Dynamo have ceded the 5th lowest amount of overall penetration of any team in MLS this year – 1st lowest in ceding volume of penetration is… Sporting KC, 2nd lowest is Chivas USA and 3rd lowest is New York.
On it’s own the statistic is not a good indicator but when viewing outputs of team indicators it may help derive other weaknesses.
So what drives the Dynamo down the path of a destruction in defense?
In short – team execution – here’s some examples of how Houston is executing in some key defensive areas compared to others in MLS…
- Houston are 8th worst in opponent shots on goal becoming goals and -18 in Goals Differential – the most effective, single, statistical indicator in Soccer with an R2 of .83 (the closer to 1.0 the better the relationship).
- Houston are 5th worst in garnering ‘off-side’ calls against their opponent as they penetrate – in other words the statistical appearance of ‘trapping the opponent’ in an off-side position isn’t there. Basically translating to the back-four not being very well organized in function as well as communication; Sporting KC – on the other hand – are 5th best.
- Houston are 6th worst in committing fouls within their own Defending Final Third – basically they are doing the same thing as Portland – beating themselves. Obviously the more set-pieces they give their opponent the more opportunities their opponent has for jamming the 18 yard box with bodies. This statistic alone could render that 5th fewest penetrations per possession by their opponents useless.
- Houston are the 2nd worst team in conceding Penalty Kicks; again like committing fouls in their own defending third, they don’t discriminate – they also make a habit of committing fouls in their own 18 yard box. This not only speaks to poor tackling habits it also speaks to having a habit of being out of position – somewhat of the same ilk as being poor in trapping the opponent in off-side positions. This statistic ‘alone’ does render the low volume of opponent penetration useless.
- Houston are 3rd worst in preventing their opponent from offering up successful crosses – bascially meaning they are pretty good at allowing the opponent to deliver crosses into the 18 yard box as a way to generate shots taken.
- Houston are 3rd worst in the frequency of defensive clearances. What magnifies this issue even more is the Dynamo being 3rd worst in preventing successful crosses. In other words a superb reason why their opponent’s are so successful in delivering crosses is directly related to how poor they are in clearing those crosses. Issues like this are usually due to two reasons – sometimes unrelated – 1) the fullbacks and or outside midfielders simply don’t close down the wings appropriately – or 2) the centerbacks and fullbacks at the near/far post are in a poor position to clear the cross. Both bad and both correctable – but usually with new players; especially if it’s a habit repeated over 19 games.
Houston have the worst Defending Possession with Purpose Index number of any team in MLS… here’s where they stand with respect to the six process steps in the DPWP Index:
- Opponent Percentage of Possession = 51.37% (7th highest opponent possession) – in other words Houston cede possession and are therefore not very good at possessing the ball with the intent to possess and control the flow of the game + possessing the ball with the intent to possess – in other words if the opponent doesn’t have the ball that is a good form of defending.
- Opponent Passing Accuracy = 78.19% (3rd highest opponent passing accuracy) – in other words the opponent is doing a very good job of moving the ball both inside and outside the Defending Final Third.
- Opponent Penetration per Possession = 20.87% (as noted earlier – 5th best in preventing opponent penetration per possession by volume – they are also 5th best by percentage) – in other words, less is better, and the opponents may be working a counter-attacking approach in order to beat Houston given the low volume and low percentage of overall penetration.
- Opponent Shots Taken per Penetration = 20.98% (3rd highest opponent success in generating shots taken per possession penetration) – in other words the opponent doesn’t need a high volume of penetration in order to take shots. The time and space is already there…
- Opponent Shots on Goal versus Shots Taken = 38.33% (2nd highest opponent success rate in MLS) – in other words, even with the lower number of shots taken, by their opponents, those shots taken are being directed on goal; meaning (as noted above) the time and space to take those shots is more readily available for the opponent – translating to the back-four – again – being out of position to make those shots taken harder to put on goal.
- Opponent Goals Scored versus Shots on Goal = 33.63% (8th highest opponent success rate in MLS) – in other words Tally Hall is actually doing a great job given the amount of time and space the opponents are getting to put shots taken on goal. At this stage I would offer Tally Hall is probably the only defensive player who is doing their job.
- Bottom line at the bottom = > Houston Goals Against are 1.90 per game – the worst in MLS.
Yes – the last statistic speaks for itself – but – without the other information to support it you really don’t know exactly why…
I’d offer that the weaknesses aren’t just with one or two players – the defensive scheme is broken and adding DaMarcus Beasley won’t hurt but it might not help that much either.
I would submit the organization may be very short-sighted, indeed, if they think just one player will rectify all the comprehensive defensive issues this team has…
I’d also offer they need additional players, with at least one of them being a Center-back, and (perhaps?) even one of them being a defensive minded midfielder.
Breaking news today (25th of July) Houston Dynamo have just signed a Central Midfielder (Luis Garrido). Here’s what Dominic Kinnear had to say about him in this article posted on MLS Soccer…
“I think he is a good player,” Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear said in a club statement. “He has a good amount of bite in the middle of the field, good energy and is a good passer of the ball. We have watched him for a few years in the CONCACAF Champions League and World Cup qualifiers, and he showed well in the World Cup. We think he is a player that will fit in with the way we play and it a good opportunity to bring him here.”
Seems the front office also recognizes that just one player won’t fix the issues in defense…
Trading/Moving Tally Hall would not be a solution to this issue.
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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?
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…
It’s half-way into the season and clearly the Red Bulls are not the team they were last year. First and foremost, what sticks out to me, is their overall performance in team defense; like Portland their overall Goal Differential (0) pretty much tells the story that their attack is doing fine but their defense is letting them down.
I’ll dig into that in a few minutes but if you’re new to this site it’d be rude for me not to include a link (ahead of time) to give you some background in my analyses. Here’s my introduction to Possession with Purpose (PWP and the Indices) and what it’s all about.
If you don’t want to take the time to read through it the short version is:
- PWP measures six steps in team performance from an attacking and defending viewpoint – those six steps are related to each other in the form of ratios and the final Index number represents that team performance.
- It is surprisingly accurate when compared to the League Table – last year the Index was five for five in identifying the MLS Playoff teams for both conferences and this year, in the World Cup, that same statistical approach was 2 for 2 in identifying the top two teams to make the Finals; a link will be provided later.
Now… back to it and the New York Red Bulls… Here’s how all the teams rack and stack after week 17:
New York are currently 11th best overall in MLS and 5th best in the Eastern Conference; they also happen to be 5th best in the Eastern Conference Table but my Index does not account for points.
Last year at this time New York was a bit higher up, as was Portland (the other Conference winner from last year).
As for the Defending PWP (my focus today) here’s a diagram on how well New York rate against everybody else:
Quite interesting that five of the six worst teams in defensive team performance are in the Eastern Conference.
If you wish to see how the teams lined up in the World Cup this year; click here:
For now, know that being in the bottom half of this Index means the opponents attacking schemes are working very-very well compared to the New York defending schemes.
But Defending Possession with Purpose team statistics don’t tell the whole story.
Part of my PWP analyses also includes collecting other data to supplement PWP; here’s a few of those that focus on other defensive team statistics:
Penetration into their Defending Third: New York has the third lowest amount of passes attempted (in volume) by their opponents in their defending third (99.35 per game); yet their opponent Goals Scored versus Shots on Goal is over 35%; tied for 5th worst in MLS.
So in other words New York may have the run of possession and penetration in attack, but when their opponent does get the ball inside their defending third they are pretty good at making the most of those opportunities.
Corners Conceded: New York is dead middle when it comes to corners conceded (5.12 per game). While average, that does represent at least five set piece opportunities for their opponents each game – and set-pieces can win games.
And if your back four shows a poor history in defensive clearances that can be an issue… more later on that.
Successful Crosses: New York is 4th worst in conceding successful crosses – their opponent success rate is 28.89%. What that means is their opponents – when penetrating at wide angles – are pretty successful in generating goal scoring opportunities in the New York 18 yard box.
And again, when a team is low in their volume of Defensive Clearances that can be an issue…
Defensive Clearances: New York averages the second fewest Defensive Clearances per game (18.53). That low amount of clearances also reflects the higher level of success their opponents have in making successful crosses and also shows potential weaknesses in clearing corner kicks.
It also means that the center-backs and fullbacks (marking the far post) are not regularly positioned well to clear danger when the opponent passes the ball into the 18 yard box.
The observation here is that if clearances are low than one would expect to see reduced levels of successful crosses given the physical presence of fullbacks playing out wider – but they’re not… odd???
I used to be able to track ‘blocked crosses’ (that might confirm or deny that view) but MLS decided (with OPTA) to not offer up that statistic anymore in their OPTA Chalkboard?!?
Penalty Kicks Conceded: The 2nd worst team in conceding PK’s (.41 per game) is New York; another indicator that the defensive players are out of position at the wrong time!
Fouls made in the Defensive Final Third: This is the lone category, out of all these defensive indicating categories, where New York isn’t showing issues; they are 6th best (2.47 per game) in making the fewest fouls in their own Defending Final Third.
So that’s a good thing in minimizing free kicks but it also (may?) reinforce that the back-four are more of the primary issue than the midfielders; lower fouls outside the 18 yard box would indicate the midfield is doing their job – meaning the higher than normal number of PK’s conceded means the back-four aren’t doing their job.
A potentially good indicator to the front office that shoring up the back-four is more critical than shoring up the midfield; perhaps others have a different view?
If you’d like to see a comparison in how Portland are doing in these categories read here.
It’s intriguing to see that both Conference winners from last year are having similar struggles this year.
And like Portland, it appears to me that there are systematic issues with the New York Red Bulls defensive unit.
And… like Portland… I don’t think that gets “fixed” by adding a single player to the back-four. If no changes in leadership (coaching staff) have occurred (between this year and last) then perhaps something has changed in their weekly training scheme?
If no changes there, then it’s likely personnel change(s) (somewhere) need to occur if this team is going to be better in defending.
Portland added a DP in the back four just recently – I’m not sure they have a DP slot available but perhaps the Red Bulls will consider adding/trading for some different defenders?
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.
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.
No more draws… you’re out you’re out. The true brutality of the game begins; if you’re faint of heart and don’t want to know how well the USA stacks up against the rest of the World in Possession with Purpose don’t read on.
I’ll lightly touch on my Attacking PWP to set the stage and then the reality of the Defending PWP and finally – the Composite PWP – it aint pretty if you fancy the United States…
I walked through some major details on APWP in my last post so I won’t tarry here too long… a couple of things that stand out to me…
Only six teams fall below the pack of green bars up top – not a complete match but good enough when considering the ‘end state’ of PWP – come close to matching the League Table ‘without’ tracking wins, draws, and losses.
From an attacking standpoint there’s pretty solid evidence to support the USA being in a “group of death”; they ended up with the worst APWP in their group yet got through.
Not to be outdone though – there are the Greeks – they too finished lower than Colombia, Ivory Coast, and Japan.
Is the difference between this Index output and Results in the Group Stages a measurement of luck?
I don’t know but the outputs from the Index seem pretty compelling after just three games.
Now for the Defending PWP Index…
In short – the DPWP Index looks to have been much more accurate than the APWP Index; correctly ranking the top teams with just four exceptions.
For me that continues to reinforce that Defending (preventing the opponent from scoring) has more overall value than just scoring.
So how about some info behind the Index number; here’s the details on the differences between teams that advanced and teams that didn’t.
Opponent Possession: (PWP data point)
- Teams not making the round of 16 who were in the top ten were Spain, Japan, Italy, Ivory Coast and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
- Teams making the round of 16 who were in the bottom ten were Netherlands, United States, Greece, Algeria, Costa Rica, and Colombia.
- Bottom line here; any approach with respect to possession can work provided the Head Coach has the right mix of players to execute that approach.
Opponent Passing Accuracy Entire Pitch: (PWP data point)
- Opponents of the United States were the most accurate passers in the World Cup so far (87.33% accurate); perhaps another piece of objective evidence supporting how talented that Group was?
- Other teams who faced opponents with high levels of passing accuracy, that made the round of 16, were Greece, Netherlands, Germany, Colombia, and Costa Rica.
- The teams making the round of 16 that played against opponents with lower passing accuracy included Chile (lowest opponent passing accuracy – 76%), Brazil, Argentina, France, and Belgium.
- Those teams “not” making the round of 16. that played against opponents with lower passing accuracy. included Japan, Spain, England, Ivory Coast and Ghana.
Opponent Passing Accuracy within the Final Third: (Supplemental PWP data point)
- Opponents of the United States were also the most accurate passers in the Final Third (76.33%); perhaps??? another piece of objective evidence supporting how talented that Group was?
- Greece remains a bed-fellow in this category as well – opponents of Greece were also 76.33% accurate within the Greece defending Final Third.
- Both teams were the worst in this category; and were the only two teams, in the worst top ten, to make the round of 16.
- Might this be a good “team” indicator on how effective those team defenses were in communicating and executing their roles? Or was it good luck or great goalkeeping?
- On the flip side Spain, England and Ivory Coast faced opponents with the lowest averages of passing accuracy in the defending Final Third.
- Those three teams were also in the top ten ‘best’ for this category; and the only three teams in that ‘best ten’ that didn’t make the round of 16.
- Might this also be a good “team” indicator on how poorly those team defenses communicated and executed their roles? Or was it bad luck or bad goalkeeping?
- I’m not sure about the answers, to those questions, but it certainly might be a good place to start as England and Spain lick their wounds and prepare for Euro2016…
Percentage of Opponent Passes within the Final Third: (PWP data point)
- The easiest teams to penetrate against, so far, have been Colombia, Greece, and the United States.
- All three have seen their opponents penetrate their defending third more than 28% of the time given total possession of the ball.
- Those three, plus Switzerland, also made the round of 16, all the other teams in the worst ten, for this category, are going home.
- In looking at the teams with the least amount of penetration per possession we have France leading the pack at just 13.98%; with Netherlands next at 15.96%.
- What is interesting about Holland is that their opponents possessed the ball (overall) third most (60.95%).
- Truly amazing that with over 60% of possession their opponents penetrated just 16% of the time – can you say high pressure that was extremely well organized?
- As for those who didn’t advance; Spain, England, Australia and Bosnia-Herzegovina were in the top ten for being stingy; the rest advanced.
Percentage of Opponent Shots Taken per Completed Pass in the Final Third: (PWP data point)
- Algeria was the top team in preventing shots taken, per completed pass, in their own defending third (11.75%); next up was England, Iran, Australia, Russia.
- Intriguing that six of the top ten teams in this category (Iran, Australia, Costa Rica, Netherlands, Greece, and the USA) were also six of the top ten in yielding possession and facing high passing accuracy numbers by their opponents.
- Is that an indicator of a ‘solid’ team defensive approach within the defending Final Third (particularly the 18 yard box)?
- I think so; another supporting indicator might be Blocked Shots; more to follow on that…
- On the other end of the spectrum, France opponents took shots 33% of the time they completed a pass within the Final Third.
- In other words, with just ~40% of the possession, the opponents of France were quick to take their chances… perhaps that’s an indicator that they weren’t given a lot of time and/or space? Or is it simply down to impatience?
- Others not yielding many shots taken, per penetration, were Chile, Argentina, Japan, Uruguay, Croatia, Brazil, Nigeria, Korea and Ecuador.
Shots Taken: (Supplemental PWP data point)
- Spain and England faced the fewest shots taken of any teams in the World Cup.
- Spain opponents averaged 8.33 shots per game and England’s averaged 8.67 shots per game – yet both failed to advance?
- When they got exposed, they got exposed big time.
- I’m not sure there is a way to quantify mental lapses but a good indicator to me that the balance of players in the back-four, for a team, is not good, is when they have high levels of possession in attack, high level of passing accuracy moving forward yet face few shots taken.
- I talked about that in my previous post on APWP; perhaps??? this is another supporting indicator that helps point out that both England and Spain didn’t test themselves and push the fine line far enough between brilliance and boring.
- Put another way perhaps???
- Might this also reaffirm, that at least for Spain and England, the goals scored against were more influential in them losing than the goals scored for in winning?
- On the flip side – the United States and Ecuador both faced over 18 shots taken per game…
- So the United States not only faced opponents with high amounts of possession, high levels of passing accuracy, and high levels of penetration – they also faced the most shots taken – yet they advanced!
- Is that great goalkeeping or good luck? I think I’ve asked that question about the Americans before…
- But before moving on – both Colombia and Greece were also in the top ten for shots faced – all the others with high shots faced did not advance.
Opponent Shots on Goal per Shot Taken: (PWP data point)
- Remember that Colombia were in the top ten for shots taken by their Opponent…
- Well that higher amount of Shots Taken did not translate to a higher amount of Shots on Goal – they were 4th best in the fewest Shots on Goal versus Shots Taken.
- And a good reason why is they had the highest average in Blocked Shots of their opponent; 6.33 to be exact.
- Brazil lead all teams in the fewest Shots on Goal per Shots Taken by their opponent; they were also third best in blocking their opponent shots.
- In looking at the top ten; only Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia where in the top ten that didn’t make the round of 16.
- And of the top 16 teams in this category, only Korea is in that pack who didn’t qualify for the next round.
- A pretty strong single indicator, with the exception of Algeria and Switzerland, who were in the bottom five for this category.
- Five goals against to France certainly didn’t help the cause for Switzerland.
- As for the United States, Netherlands, and Greece?
- Those three teams, where the opponent had high numbers in possession and passing accuracy, saw all three in the top 15 (defensively) for this category.
- With the United States offering up 4 blocked shots per game and Greece averaging 4.33 shots blocked per game.
- Netherlands, who had one of the 4th lowest shots taken against, was 11th best in minimizing shots on goal per shot taken; their blocked shots were only 2.33 per game (midway in the pack).
Opponent Shots on Goal: (Supplement PWP data point)
- Only one team in the top ten, who faced the fewest Shots on Goal did not advance, England.
- They faced the 3rd fewest Shots on Goal while also seeing 35.26% of their opponents Shots on Goal net goals.
- A worthy note here is that England only averaged one Opponent Blocked shot per game – and ironically enough Spain was worst – averaging just .33 Opponent Blocked Shots per game.
- The two surprise teams kicked out of the World Cup were the same two teams with the lowest amount of average Opponent Blocked Shots.
- Other teams who moved on that had high Shots on Goal Against were Nigeria, Switzerland, Algeria and the United States.
- If Blocked shots has value as a supporting indicator then Nigeria, Switzerland and Algeria are more likely to lose their next game than the United States.
- Nigeria averaged 2.67 blocked shots per game, Switzerland averaged 2.33, while Algeria averaged 1.33.
- The USA averaged 4 blocked shots per game – sign of a swarming defense that really focuses on protecting the 18 yard box.
- All told, the rest of the teams in the top ten in preventing shots on goal were Brazil, France, Costa Rica, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Mexico, Uruguay, and Argentina.
Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (PWP data point)
- Two teams in the top ten for this team performance indicator didn’t advance, Italy and Ecuador.
- The top team with the lowest Goals Scored Against versus Shots on Goal was Nigeria; 7.69%.
- Others following in the top five were Costa Rica, Germany, Mexico, and Colombia.
- Both Greece and the United States did well here; they finished 13th and 14th respectively. Netherlands, a team who gave up quite a bit of possession, was 12th best.
- The teams with the worst ratio were led by Australia (56.11%) followed by Bosnia-Herzegovina, England, Hondurus and Japan.
- Brazil was actually sixth worst and Belgium was 13th worst.
- Might that be a worthy indicator where Chile may “upset” Brazil – or, given the Index information would it really be an upset?
- How about the United States taking on Belgium?
- The United States are good at blocking shots – while Belgium seems more inclined to yield space ‘within’ their 18 yard box. Does that translate to an ‘upset’?
Goals Scored Against (Supplemental PWP data point).
- Most seem to agree that one of the single greatest indicators is goals against; in looking at the top ten Goals Scored Against Switzerland lead the pack at 2.00 (per game) for all teams that are advancing; and yes that is a bit dodgy seeing as they gave up five goals to France – but it is what it is…
- Mexico, Belgium and Costa Rica all lead the pack in fewest Goals Against (.33) per game.
- The only team, not advancing, in the top ten not for fewest Goals Against is Italy (1.00) per game.
- As for Greece and the United States?
- Both finished on 1.33 Goals Against per game.
- Overall, nine of the top ten teams in fewest Goals Against advanced. And only one team, in the top ten for most Goals Against, advanced; Switzerland – against France.
- Uruguay was the other team who matched the United States and Greece at 1.33 per game.
Final thoughts on DPWP:
- The DPWP Index is not intended to be a predictability model; not with Goals Against included; but all told the Index looks very reasonable after just three games – far exceeding my initial expectations.
- The Correlation to the sum of points earned (R2) is -.7988.
- The Correlation of Opponent Goals Scored to sum of points earned is -.7366
- The Correlation of DPWP to Opponent Goals Scored is .7994
- All told the Correlation of DPWP to Points is the best Correlation.
In closing… Composite PWP:
Bottom line here is that with just three games played the CPWP Index shows just two teams outside the ‘bell curve’.
Pretty reasonable – and while many may poo-poo Costa Rica belonging in the upper echelon they finished in the top 7 for four of the six team defending performance indicators; while facing opponents who averaged 57.58% of the ball while also completing 82.67% of their passes.
As for the United States, even when removing that late goal by Portugal in the Index analysis, the CPWP for the United States would still be in the negative (-.3120) instead of (-.3596). I.E. 6th worst and not 5th worst; that goal did impact the results table but really didn’t impact the Indices of PWP.
In thinking about the next round…
These Indices are not predictability indices, with Goals Scored and Goals Against included they can’t be; but… it does provide a great litmus test for showing which teams (and their overall performance) are on form and ‘what form’ / ‘style’ those teams might be playing to.
Given that, there’s a pretty reasonable chance that Germany beats Algeria, France beats Nigeria, Costa Rica beats Greece, Argentina beats Switzerland, and Colombia beats Uruguay.
Toss ups (and indeed what I think will be really great games) are Chile v Brazil, the Netherlands v Mexico and Belgium v the United States.
Chile can win against Brazil given their better than average defending (and) attacking PWP compared to Brazil; in other words Chile are showing themselves to be in better form.
The Dutch have been masters at the counter-attack and are very efficient in preventing Goals Scored Against; that will be a very dangerous game for Mexico!
With respect to the United States?
They have given time and space but still seem to hold on – it’s a tactic oft used by teams who aren’t quite on the same cutting edge as others – they just simply found the right mix to advance; can that continue?
And lest it’s forgotten – when it comes to defending the 18 yard box, no other team was more effective given the volume of traffic by the opponent!
It’s hard for me to fathom a team wearing orange kits not doing good – just seems wrong to me. And after making the Playoffs last year it seemed reasonable they’d be knocking at the door again this year.
Not true – at least not yet – so this week is a Study in Orange, to an extent, leveraging many of the supplemental statistics I collect in addition to those supporting my Indices.
To get things started here’s the top-to-bottom Attacking (APWP) Index through Week 14 (represents teams with as many as 16 games and as few as 11 games)…
After 14 weeks the APWP Index offers Seattle as the best attacking team in MLS.
What that means is the Sounders are one of top ten teams in possession, passing accuracy, throughout and within the Final Third, while also being effective at taking shots and converting those to shots on target, shots on goal, and goals scored.
Conversely, the most ineffective team in MLS, at this time (consistency wise) is Houston – let’s take a quick look at the differences between these two teams for comparison…
Possession: Seattle = 51.56%; Houston = 47.52%
Passing Accuracy Entire Pitch: Seattle = 77.18%; Houston = 74.78%
Passing Accuracy Final Third: Seattle = 64.88%; Houston = 65.80%
Penetration Percentage into the Final Third: Seattle = 20.09%; Houston = 22.57% *
Shots Taken per Penetration: Seattle = 19.03%; Houston = 20.25% *
Shots on Goal per Shot Taken: Seattle = 40.16%; Houston = 29.06%
Goals Scored per Shot on Goal: Seattle = 43.53%; Houston = 19.24%
Goals Scored per game: Seattle = 2.13; Houston = 1.00
I’ve put an asterisk (*) in two categories to reinforce a great talking point at the World Conference on Science and Soccer last week; teams that appear to penetrate more times per overall possession percentage have a tendency to take more shots that are less effective than teams who are a bit more deliberate in their penetration and shot selection.
Since I don’t track shot location it would be interesting to see the general tendencies of Houston when it comes to shot location.
An exception, and aren’t there exceptions to just about everything, is New England – but only with respect to percentage of penetration per pass completed – their’s is 29.04%; considerably higher than either Seattle or Houston.
A big difference, however, is looking at Shots Taken per penetration – the Revolution average 15.55% in that category.
What that means is the Revolution do penetrate more per possession but they actually take far fewer shots per possession (patience) and in turn their shots on target are 4th best in MLS. That increase in shots on target also drives towards 1.5 goals scored per game.
But back to the deep dive on Dom’s Dynamo; if I were their Sporting Director for the day here’s some additional team performance questions and the answers as of today:
Do we score more goals per game than other teams? No; we are tied for 2nd worst in goals scored per game this year.
Do we give up more PK’s than other teams? Yes, we concede .43 PKs against per game this year; 2nd worst in MLS.
Do we concede more corners than other teams? No; we concede the 7th fewest corners per game this year.
Do we concede more successful crosses than other teams? No; we concede the 6th fewest successful crosses per game this year.
Do we concede the most Yellow Cards than other teams? No; we concede the 3rd fewest Yellow Cards per game this year.
Do we concede the most Red Cards than other teams? Yes; we concede the 5th highest number of Red Cards per game this year.
How are we doing in Defensive Clearances compared to other teams? We have the 6th fewest clearances per game this year.
Do we have the fewest Tackles Won than other teams? Yes; we have the 7th fewest tackles won per game this year.
Do we have the most Offsides than other teams? No; we have the 7th lowest average in offsides per game this year.
Do we have the best passing accuracy across the entire pitch than other teams? No; we have the 6th worst passing accuracy per game this year.
Do we have the best passing accuracy within the final third than other teams? No; we are 8th worst in passing accuracy within the Final Third this year.
Do we have the best Shots on Goal percentage than other teams? No; we are the worst team in MLS putting Shots on Goal per Shots Taken ths year.
Do we have the best Goals Scored percentage than other teams? No; we are the worst team in MLS in Goal Scoring per Shots on Goal this year.
Do we have the best Defensive PWP in stopping their Opponents this year?
No; we are the 4th worst team in preventing their opponent from successful possession, passing accuracy, penetration, shots taken, shots on goal and goals scored against this year.
Here’s a few more questions and answers…
Do we yield concede more fouls in their Defending Third than other teams? Yes; slightly more, we are 8th worst in fouls conceded within their Defending Third.
Do we concede more Goals Against than other teams? Yes; we have the 4th worst Goals Against this year.
Do we have a large Goal Differential than other teams? Yes; we have the 3rd highest Goal Differential this year.
Do our Opponents have a higher average of Passing Accuracy than against other teams? Yes; Opponents of Houston average 78.61% Passing Accuracy; that is 2nd worst this year.
When considering all the other teams and the Composite PWP (the difference between attacking and defending) where is Houston?
Through Week 14 the Houston Dynamo sit 2nd worst in CPWP.
Last year they finished 12th best in CPWP and were 5th best in CPWP when viewing just Eastern Conference teams…
How is their CPWP at home versus on the road? There CPWP is -0.4625 on the road – the worst in MLS and their CPWP at home is -0.0589; 4th worst in MLS.
A few other questions as the Houston Dynamo Sporting Director today:
- What do we do that increases our chances for winning?
- If we concede fewer Corners and fewer crosses why are we still having a higher than average Goals Against?
- What does our scouting report say?
- Who’s in the queue on the trade list to get this team better?
- Who do we have in the Academy pipeline that can help?
- When does Brad Davis come back?
- How’s the fitness level of the players?
- How’s the locker room atmosphere?
- Do we have too many average players making more than the average number of mistakes?
Obviously there are more questions than can be asked from an individual player standpoint…
But considering that almost every manager got sacked last year (see diagram below) who coached a side finishing in the bottom half of this Index, there appears to be compelling evidence that Houston needs to make some significant changes somewhere in order to get better.
Is there cause for concern?
I think so – obviously there are far more questions to ask and answers to look for but the performanc indicators for Houston, so far this year, seem compelling enough to cause concern.
Balancing the needs of the organization against the budget is always a tough call but it appears to me that individual player personnel changes are needed – where – I don’t know because I don’t track individual player statistics – the public domain data isn’t good enough.
As for the diagram above – a few additional points to make in seeing what that Index offers:
- The top five “Eastern Conference teams” in this Index all made the Playoffs.
- The top five “Western Conference teams” in this Index all made the Playoffs.
- The Coach of the Year came from the team with the best overall CPWP last year; Portland.
I’m not obtuse enough to believe that the current CPWP Index, for this season, represents the final Index. Nor do I expect that the top five for both conferences will be in the top ten of the End of Season 2014 CPWP Index.
The Intent with this Index is to ‘closely match’ the League Standings not ‘exactly match’ the League Standings. So far it’s pretty close – I’ll take that.
And since we are near the half-way point of the season I will look to pick out at least one team to review every few days (in the bottom half of this Index) to offer up answers to more of those basic questions.
Pedigree and consistency of purpose are two words/phrases that come to mind when I consider these teams. Both are currently doing very well and in my Composite PWP Index, after 12 weeks, they sit in positions four and five.
In considering this early-to-mid-season marquee match-up I’ve put together a few diagrams that might help paint a picture on how effective these two teams are.
My approach will consider how well Real Salt Lake has performed on the road this year versus how well Seattle have performed at home this year; I hope you enjoy it.
But before starting the Capt. Obvious — both teams have some players missing. With this being Week 13 RSL have used 15 different field players this year while Seattle have used 18.
So although key-players are missing I don’t really think it matters that much – what matters for me, is the beginning words; pedigree and consistency of purpose through the course of this season so far.
And given RSL are unbeaten while Seattle have 26 points with 13 games played the ‘key-player-missing-theme’ just doesn’t work for me.
Given that here’s my latest Doughnut Diagrams for Real Salt Lake versus Seattle; first one up is showing the weighted averages on how each team has attacked their opponent this year (RSL in away games) and (SSFC in home games).
Not much separates the two teams when looking at what percentage each of the activities in PWP amounts to in relationship to each other – the only one showing any real difference is the amount of Shots on Goal versus Shots Taken for Real Salt Lake.
Given the same rough volume of Shots Taken per penetration (7%) for both teams, RSL are more effective in converting those Shots Taken to Shots on Goal.
In viewing the next percentage – converting those Shots on Goal to Goals Scored there is a slight edge to Seattle.
In total though, both teams are +5 in their Goal Differential (RSL on the road) and (SSFC at home).
Early indications are this should be a very tight game.
The next diagram offers up how each team performs in defense against their opponents attack:
While some may disagree with this view I would submit this diagram helps speak to how these two teams defend differently yet they end up with the same result.
Note that RSL opponents have yielded less volume in their opponent passing accuracy within and outside the final third but greater volume in penetrating and creating shots.
For me that indicates RSL have a tendency to apply pressure higher up the pitch.
On the other hand the Seattle opponent percentages seem to indicate to me that their defense tucks in a bit more in the final third with the intent of giving their opponent a wee bit more possession outside the final third.
However viewed both teams appear matched evenly when it comes to preventing Shots on Goal and Goals Scored.
An interesting thing to watch for in this game might be how high up the pitch Alonso ventures versus Grossman (the likely replacement for Beckerman).
I would offer the more Alonso commits himself outside the final third the more likely RSL are to score.
On to the standard team performance percentages from the six steps in Possession with Purpose:
Below is the diagram showing the percentages of RSL and how they defend on the road, versus SSFC and how they attack at home.
I’ve highlighted two areas; the Shots on Goal versus Shots Taken and the Goals Scored versus Shots on Goal; note that when Seattle attacks 40% of their Shots Taken end up on Goal with roughly 28% of those hitting the back of the net.
Conversely, when RSL defends on the road they are pretty stingy when it comes to yielding Shots on Goal; ~30%, but when the opponent does put that Shot on Goal about ~37% of those shots hit the back of the net.
All told the other indicators seem to support a high level of passing accuracy and possession; if the opponent (dark blue bar for SSFC is 46% then SSFC averages 54% at home in attack.
Next up the view on how RSL attacks on the road versus how SSFC defends at home.
Again the highlighted area for RSL is Shots on Goal versus Shots Taken – clearly (given the lower amount of Shots Taken per penetration) (light blue bar – ~18%) RSL takes its time in setting up shots that are more likely to be on target – and scoring is not a problem given their +5 goal differential on the road.
As for Seattle, they yield, on average, about the same amount of Shots Taken per penetration but the resultant indicates they are more successful in preventing that Shot Taken from becoming a Shot on Goal < ~30%.
Another indicator reinforcing that they appear to work towards closing down their opponents more tightly within their defending third.
I’m not sure we see a tight game here – it’s mid-season and both teams might want to test each others’ weaknesses at full speed.
If I had to take a choice on which defense is stronger I would go with Real – on the other side if I had to choose if momentum were going to influence this game I reckon the strong supporter base of Seattle will pull them through.
If individual players are going to impact this game for Real Salt Lake I’d like to think it would be Ned Grabavoy or Joao Plata.
On the other hand if individual players are going to provide a positive impact to Seattle I can see Cooper or Martins taking that leadership; both can be dangerous goal scorers in different ways.
If I were in Seattle I would go to this game… just to watch two strong teams go head-to-head!
Aye… the NFL track ‘hurried throws’ – why doesn’t a Statistics agency involved in Soccer track “Hurried Passes”?
I’ll get to that but first I need to set some conditions.
If you’ve read my article on Expected Wins 2 (XpW) it seems reasonable that a teams’ Passing Accuracy in the Final Third has great value in working towards generating quality shots taken that are more likely to be on goal and (therefore) more likely to go in.
So what activities does the defense take to mitigate successful passes (i.e. generate Unsuccessful Passes)?
Before digging in, I’m not the only one looking into Defensive Statistics; Jared Young has put together an interesting article on Individual Defensive Statistics that may be of interest.
Similarities in our work come from collecting ‘like’ defensive activities; Tackles Won, Clearances, Interceptions, etc…
Additional twists in my efforts will be to fold my Opponent team attacking statistics in with my team Defense Activities to see what correlations might be present.
My data comes from the first 71 games in MLS this year (142 events) and my source is the MLS Chalkboard.
Bottom line up front (BLUF) – however this data plays out it needs to make sense so here’s my operating conditions on Team Defensive Activities in the Defending Final Third and which ones I will focus on that can be associated with an Unsuccessful Pass in the Final Third:
- Recoveries – usually associated with ‘loose balls’ generated from some other activity like a deflection, rebound, or perhaps an unsuccessful throw-in that hits a head and deflects away (uncontrolled) that another player latches on to and then makes a move showing control the ball. Therefore Recoveries are not counted as a specific defensive activity that would impede a successful pass – it is the resultant of another activity that impedes a successful pass.
- Clearances – one of the better examples of a defensive activity that impedes a successful pass – especially those generated from crosses but not necessarily called a blocked cross. Therefore Clearances will be counted as a specific defensive activity that impedes a successful pass.
- Interceptions – pretty much self explanatory – an interception impedes a successful pass – therefore Interceptions will be counted as a specific defensive activity that impedes a successful pass.
- Tackles Won – this is a defensive activity that strips the ball from an opponent – so it is a possession lost but not a defensive activity that impedes a successful pass. It won’t be counted as a defensive activity that impedes a successful pass.
- Defender Blocks – this is a defensive activity that blocks a shot taken not a successful pass; therefore it won’t be counted as a defensive activity that impedes a successful pass.
- Blocked Crosess – clearly it is what it is; and since a cross is a pass it will be counted as a defensive activity that impedes a successful pass.
To summarize – Blocked Crosses, Interceptions and Clearances will be counted as defensive activities that should impact the volume of Unsuccessful Passes.
So what are the correlations between those combined Defensive Activities versus Unsuccessful Passes after 142 events?
Final Third Defensive Activities to Unsuccessful Passes = .6864
Final Third Defensive Activities to Unsuccessful Passes when the Defending Activities’ Team Wins = .7833
Final Third Defensive Activities to Unsuccessful Passes when the Defending Activities’ Team Draws = .6005
Final Third Defensive Activities to Unsuccessful Passes when the Defending Activities’ Team Loses = .6378
It seems pretty clear that Teams who win have more Defensive Activities, that in turn increase their Opponents’ Unsuccessful Passes given the higher positive correlation than losing teams – in other words a team that wins generally executes more clearances, interceptions and blocked crosses to decrease the number of Successful Passes their Opponents make.
It also seems pretty clear that all those Defensive Activities don’t account for the total of Unsuccessful Passes generated by the Opponent. If they did then the correlation would be higher than .7833; it’d be near .9898 or so.
So what is missing from the generic soccer statistical community to account for the void in Unsuccessful Passes?
Is it another statistic like Tackles Won, Duals Won, Blocked Shots or Recoveries?
I don’t think so – none of them generated a marked increase in the overall correlation of those three Activities already identified.
I think it is the physical and spatial pressure applied by the defenders as they work man to man and zone defending efforts.
To date I’m not aware of any statistics that log ‘pressure applied’ to the attacking team. A good way to count that would be tracking how many seconds the defending team gives an opponent when they recieve the ball and take action.
My expectation is that the less time, given the opponent, the more likely they will hurry a pass that simply goes awry without any other statistic event to account for that other than – bad pass due to being hurried.
So in other words; like the NFL tracks hurried passes, I think that the Soccer statistical community should also track “hurried passes”…
I’m not sure that completely closes the gap between those three Defensive Activities and Unsuccessful Passes but it does seem to be a relevant statistic that can attempt to quantify panic in an attacker while also quantifying good physical and spatial pressure by a defender. Two relevant items of interest to a coach in weighing the balance on who plays and who doesn’t and who they might like to add to their team or perhaps put on loan/trade elsewhere.
The Official statistic that would get tracked for attacking players is ‘Hurried Passes’ and the statistic that would get tracked for defensive players is ‘Passes Hurried’.
In addition – an increase in hurried passes can become a training topic that drives a Head Coach to develop tailor made passing or turning drills to minimize Hurried Passes (make space) while also providing a Head Coach statistical information to generate tailor made defensive drills that look to increase Passes Hurried. I’d expect the level of the training drills to vary given the level of skill/professional development as well.
So how might someone define a “Hurried Pass”? I’m not sure; there are plenty of smarter people out there in the soccer community than me – if I had to offer up a few suggestions it might be a pass that goes out of bounds given defensive pressure, or maybe a through-ball that goes amiss given pressure from a defender – in other words the timing of the delivery looked bad and given defensive pressure it was off-target.
However defined if judgment can be applied when identifying a pass as a key pass then it stands to reason that judgment can be applied to identify a bad pass as being bad because the defender hurried the attacker.
More to follow…
A more to follow is this recent article entitled New Statistics Open Pass and Open Shot.