Tagged: Gregg Berhalter

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

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

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

Here’s my litany of observations for your consideration:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Throughout the game I saw great examples of:

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

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

I don’t think so.

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

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

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

In closing:

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

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

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

Questions for your consideration:

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

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

Kind Regards, Chris

You can follow me on my new twitter here.

Gregg Berhalter to lead #USMNT?

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

Is this a good decision?

Background:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Possession – controlled possession.  

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

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

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

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

A few examples before historical info about Columbus since 2014:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In closing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best, Chris

You can follow me on twitter here:  ChrisWGluck

 

Gluck: Can @Timbersfc Triumvirate of Triumphs Continue?

Over the last three years there probably isn’t a team (and Head Coach) that’s been more focused on possession-based soccer than Columbus Crew.

When Columbus out-possesses their opponents they are about 75% more likely to earn points… usually three… when playing at home.

So in seeing early success for the Timbers, and a rematch (if you will) of the MLS Championship game in 2015, what might we expect to be some key points/areas of focus for this game?

Who’s in and who’s out may matter this weekend.

Even though both Head Coaches have a good cast of players to call on, to execute their respective playing styles, there is a drop-off with David Guzman and Darlington Nagbe being out for Portland and Jukka Raitala being out for Columbus.

Who slots in to replace these players isn’t clear, and with Gregg Berhalter finally working a different tactical scheme I’d offer there’s more than a few questions about how the teams line up.

Given that – what do we think we know about past practices and how they may come into play?

Clearances.  Team clearances are critical for both sides.  A key to either teams’ success has been the ability to clear corners and crosses when appropriate.

Columbus was wicked good at this in 2015 but lacked by a good margin in 2014 and 2016.

For Portland, the inability to clear the ball in 2016 played a huge role in points dropped on the road.  In roughly 75% of road games played the lack of effective clearances led to dropped points.

Pretty much meaning defensive success, for both teams, relies heavily on their center-backs being able to clear crosses, while at the same time, seeing their fullbacks and midfield support doing well to shut down wing penetration.

All told, failure in defensive spacing and communication, from as many as two fullbacks, two center-backs, two central defending midfielders, and two wingers (for each team) is critical.  Is this a team game of individuals or what?

But it’s not just about defense, as the Timbers have clearly shown with their three wins to begin the season – it’s also about attacking.

On the wings I’d submit there’s at least three players to watch for the Timbers.

These include (if healthy) Marco Farfan, Sebastian Blanco, and Alvas Powell.

As for the left midfield slot?  Well… others may disagree, but I don’t sense Darren Mattocks is likely to offer many crosses – so if he starts – I see Diego Valeri rolling wide left on occasion.

If Darren does not start then I’d look for Dairon Asprilla as the fourth weapon for Portland.

If Columbus trot out in a 3-4-2-1 then it’s likely the two “wingers” have the key role in offering crosses.

With Jukka Raitala on international duty I’m not sure who plays the left side; maybe Nicolai Naess?

Figure Harrison Afful and, regardless of formation, Finlay to add value on the Columbus right side.  If they line up in a 4-2-3-1 add Justin Meram to that equation on the left side.

In closing:

I see four key match-ups this game.

Marco Farfan (Zarek Valentin?) versus Finlay.

Sebastian Blanco/Alvas Powell versus (Nicolai Naess?) or whomever stands in for Jukka Raitala.

 

With David Guzman out, it’s likely Ben Zemanski gets the head nod.  How well Ben Zemanski (with support from Diego Chara) bottles up Frederico Higuain is another.

Finally, Fanendo Adi.  A true #9 – there’s not many in Major League Soccer.  He might not be the target of crosses given Diego Valeri now has two this year – but rest assured – balls played into him are likely to help create space for the Timbers on the wings.  The better he can play with his back to goal the more effective he’ll be in supporting the Timbers attack.

Best, Chris

You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckpwp

MLS – Week 29 – Gregg Berhalter – Manager of the Year? I think so…

Most should know, by now, that the top teams in MLS are queueing up for the final playoff push while others sit in dispair and wonder what’s gone wrong…

I’ll dig into that, in detail, in a few weeks – for now let’s take a look at those teams on the cusp (a whole bunch I might add) and see what we can see…

In the tradition of my analyses here’s the latest Possession with Purpose Strategic Composite Index (CPWP):

CPWP Strategic Index Week 29 MLS

Figure the West is down to two teams unless Portland completely folds with four games to go; for some perhaps not as unlikely as they’d like to admit given Will Johnson is out and Diego Valeri misses the next game against San Jose.

In the East it’s not quiet as simple – this conference has been plagued with bad team performances throughout the year – and it’s almost sickening to sense that Sporting Kansas City, a year in and year out top performer, will move to the Western Conference next year… wow – that sucks!

Be that as it may, Toronto, Philadelphia, Houston, and New York are battling for the 5th Playoff spot.

That doesn’t mean Columbus is in the clear but if ever a team deserved to make the Playoffs, in the East, it would be Columbus – one of the MOST consistent teams this year…

And that consistency of purpose has also translated to results in the league table – Caleb Porter did that with the Portland Timbers last year and Gregg Berhalter is doing that with Columbus this year…

Team performance AND results, combined, matter!

In my opinion Gregg Berhalter, hands down, is Manager of the Year!

I get it that Ben Olsen has turned his team around – but Berhalter has rebuilt his team – all Olsen has done is really find two new strikers and upgraded some defensive players – he has not rebuilt and redirected a new philosophical approach like Berhalter has.

Of course Columbus still need to make the playoffs to etch in stone that results oriented improvement matches team attacking and defending performance improvement.

Anyhow, I digress… statistically speaking the CPWP Strategic Index correlation (R2) to average points in the league table is (.83) – the highest yet this year.

Before moving on to APWP, some additional thoughts on Toronto, Philadelphia and Houston…

I watched that Toronto victory over Portland the other day and I can’t help but think how horrid that team is in overall, run of play, performance.

If the Timbers had any inkling of a defensive minded bench, and starting squad, the Reds would have been blown away – wow… but it’s about results in this league and when it came to set-pieces they got results.

As for Philadelphia – my hat is off to Jim Curtin – he’s taken the same squad, made a defensive tweak and brought them back – other than that nothing, absolutely nothing has changed between he and John Hackworth; er… other than the results – which of course stems from that defensive change — more here.

Both solid guys, both wanting to win, one took one path and it didn’t pay off – so the other took a slightly different path and it paid off…

Houston – well – they’ve been on the far side of great team performances this year more than most – what started as a good run might end as a good run – who knows – it’s a funny conference and poor performances in the East don’t mean you lose… fancy that!

Now on to Attacking PWP – here’s how they stand after Week 29:

APWP Strategic Index Week 29 MLS

A shiny example of how simply being a great attacking team ISN’T the answer in this league – too much focus by New York and Portland in attack as opposed to defending has cost them – BIG TIME… Cameron Knowles is the Defensive Coordinator for the Timbers and it’s clear, to me, he needs to go.

I’d imagine whoever the defensive coordinator for the Red Bulls is should be moved too…

Caleb Porter is a brilliant leader – and when you have brilliant leaders you don’t need ‘yes-men’ to work with them.

You need assistanct coaches with vision that looks in different areas – asks tough questions – pushes their own defensive agenda to make others in the organization to think even more, all the while stretching/pushing the added research and analysis you need to outperform the opponent on both sides of the ball…

I don’t personally know Cameron – have never even talked with him; he’s proabably a really good guy…

But it is clear, given the consistently bad defending nature/statistics/results of this team (goals against are 4th worst in MLS) the internal organizational structure to build a strong – defensive minded – thinking team – isn’t there…

If they make the Playoffs they will be lucky – very lucky; and that’s hard to say for me #RCTID!

New York – if New York gets edged out by any of those Eastern Conference teams I’d imagine Mike Petke gets sacked… the Red Bulls, like Portland, have been dodgy in defending all season long…

Sidenote:  With respect to Thierry Henry – he’s such a classy guy – I met him in the elevator at the MLS All Star game and he’s a normal guy, who respects his Head Coach, whoever that might be, and he simply plays great attacking football.

While he’s offered no indication he might retire I think he does; and unlike Landon Donovan I think Thierry is OKAY with not having his retirement, here, being made a big deal.

I’d offer a simple testamonial with Arsenal and Arsene Wenger is good enough for Henry – and rightly so – as his best footballing years came in London town!

Now about those fringe teams… Toronto, Houston, Philadelphia, and New York in the East…

  • Toronto – one of the worst passing teams in Major League Soccer – 75% across the entire pitch (5th worst in the league).  What makes this team work is Michael Bradley’s vision – a superb acquisition for MLS but is it good enough to stop the playoff-missing rot?
  • As for technical things that might have changed with Vanney taking over after Nelson got booted – I’m not seeing any… maybe things will show better at the end of the season – for now I think that bust up was about ego more than anything else…
  • Philadelphia – as noted, this team has tactically changed with John Hackworth being replaced by Jim Curtin.  Like Toronto, Philadelphia is a poor passing team – what is getting them where they are now is better defending – take note Portland!
  • Houston – on the trailing edge of good attacking and defending performances all season long.
  • As noted though – the tenor of Houston hasn’t been about leading, against teams, in attack – it’s more of a grinding team that works hard in defending and tries to take advantage of opponent weak spots when attacking.
  • Adding Garido and Beasley has helped that and you’ll see below in DPWP they are 7th worst after Week 29; yet after Week 19 they were 2nd worst – a move up the Index a full five places…
  • I’d imgine it’s that tenor that has lead to discussion about Kinnear moving to San Jose – hmmm… there’s more to that than meets the eye…
  • Anyhow, Bruin has flopped this year, and it’s likely he gets moved – and with Davis spending time with the USMNT that may have cost this team a whole bunch in leadership.
  • At the end of the day – Houston have a possible 15 points with five game remaining – all against Eastern Conference foes.
  • While it’s a long shot, if they get past New York this next weekend, I can see the dominoes fall in a favorable direction for the dynamic Dynamo – if the defense holds…  (my sleeper to push New York out…)

Moving on to Defending PWP:

DPWP Strategic Index Week 29 MLS

By the way – there’s Columbus at the top of the Defending PWP Strategic Index – and they were 5th best in APWP – for a combined 2nd best in CPWP…

Defense wins, so hopefully we see that consistent team performance carry on to the Playoffs and through to the finals!

As for the three teams (plus New York) in the East?

Team performance wise – there’s Houston sitting above New York, Philadelphia and Toronto – and six of the bottom seven teams in all of MLS (for team defending performance) are teams from the Eastern Conference – only the embarrassing, pathetic, Chivas USA are worse…

And with them taking a two year hiatus (you might as well say ‘relegated’) it’s about time that poorly organized team was dumped and replaced – hopefully they move as well!  I wonder how that impacts the Expansion Draft?

Anyhow – in the West, note that Vancouver has edged back into the higher echelon of team defending – they have FC Dallas, at home, with Seattle away, San Jose away and Colorado at home.

In Week 19, Vancouver were 9th best in DPWP – even with those two recent losses to Portland, they have now climbed to 5th best in DPWP; you don’t need to beat everybody to make the playoffs…

I can see Vancouver taking six of 12 points here.  Can the Timbers take nine of 12 points with two matches against San Jose, one against Real Salt Lake, and the final one away to FC Dallas (who will most certainly not want to finish 4th)?

Hard to say but if Gaston Fernandez can step in for Diego Valeri who knows?

For now, and I’ve not offered this before, I think playing both Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri, on the pitch, hurts the tenor of team defending on this team.

It’s almost like those two guys are too dynamic in attack and less able to motor and provide a  more box-to-box support this team probably needs in defending…

If they stay together then the upgrade at both fullback spots – plus another center-back – is really needed to keep the defense sound.  I digress…

All that said means San Jose are a likely doormat the last five games.

If Watson is elementary  in coaching the last four games he is surely gone for next year – I’d imagine he and Wondolowski and others will not want to finish the season with just six points – and that’s opining that they can beat Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto as well as take the expected three points against Chivas?

Unlikely – I’d offer Watson sees HIS team as being one that can pull 12 points out of their remaining five games – especially since their last one is against Chivas USA…

In closing:

All to play for – regardless of how things go this year – these same teams will not have these same players next year.

One thing about MLS is that variation in team composition is consistent – the expansion draft is likely to see a few teams lose at least two players – making the academy and (individual) team scouting all the more important than a ‘composite’ MLS scouting approach.

To think that this franchise driven league relies more on an overall ‘collective scouting system to get players for the league’ flies in the face of the very economic and competitive structure of this country where individual thinking, individual feeling, and individual analysis suits individual companies better to make them individually more competitive.

It’s not about the “league” anymore in my opinion – and Chivas USA, coupled with New York City FC and all that the Manchester City pedigree brings with it, has shown that.

From here on (MLSNext???) it should be about the individual team within the larger franchise.

I think it’s time for poker to go up…  MLS has arrived as a competitive league – now individual teams, and individual owners, should go out there and bloody compete on a team to team footing and may the best organization win!

And yes, Gregg Berhalter should be the MLS Coach of the Year!

Best, Chris

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