When I was a Soccer Youth Head Coach, in England and America, I sometimes struggled with how to manage the well-intentioned, high level of energy, that parents and/or guardians brought to the Soccer pitch.
At that time I hadn’t concieved my Possession with Purpose analytical approach, but if I had, I would certainly have followed it.
Why, because I think and feel there is great value in understanding some of the basic activities of soccer, mesauring those activities, and using those results to drive improvement. And the earlier in the development of soccer the better in understanding that while this game is measured by wins, draws, and losses, it isn’t just about scoring goals – it’s about preventing them too.
If you’re an aspiring soccer Head Coach, new or old, I think this approach in leveraging parents/guardians to help you help the team is a great step towards getting better.
If that resonates with you, or even if it doesn’t, I think it’s worthy you take a few minutes to consider what I offer.
Before digging in, you should know up front, this entire approach works from my Strategic Possession with Purpose Family of Indices; the same analysis offered up at the 2014 World Conference on Science and Soccer.
And the same analysis used to evalute professional team performances within Major League Soccer, the English Premier League, the Bundesliga, La Liga, World Cup 2014 and the UEFA Champions League.
The End State is to measure team performance – ignoring results (points in the league table) in order to track and trend (analyze) individual and team performance with the intent of driving towards improvement.
In statistical terms the relationship (correlation) of my analyses (the Composite PWP Index to Points in the League Table) without counting points is (R2) .86.
In other words 86% of the time my own Index reflects the outputs in the League Table without counting points.
AND…. 86% of the time the winning teams execute the steps within PWP better than the losing team!
With that said here’s what to do.
- Split the pitch into thirds and place one parent at the entry point into your own defending final third and one at the entry point into your opponent’s defending final third.
- Next, place two parents at the middle of the pitch.
- Then place one parent at or near the end line on your defending side of the pitch and then one parent at the same position on the opponent’s defending side of the pitch.
- Give each parent a clipboard and pen (waterproof if necessary) and have them begin to count and keep track of certain ‘team’ data points.
- The two parents in the center of the pitch are to count and document (all) passes attempted and passes completed for each team (throw-ins and free kicks included) across the entire pitch. If you have four parents then have two track passes attempted and two track passes completed, one for each team.
- The two parents at the entry to the defending final third are to count and document passes attempted and completed (within and into) the defending final third for each team. This also includes all throw-ins, crosses, corners and free kicks that are not specific shots taken on goal. If you have four parents/guardians then have one each track passes attempted and passes completed separately for each team.
- Finally, the two parents on the end lines are to count and document shots taken, shots on goal, and goals scored for each team.
At the end of the game you will have a complete data base (by volume and percentage) that gives you the information to identify your team’s possession percentage, passing accuracy, penetration per possession, ability to generate shots per penetrating possession, what percentage of those shots taken were on goal and what percentage of those shots on goal that scored goals (your team attacking).
And since you collected data on your opponent you will also have all the data on how well your opponent did in those same categories against you (your team defending).
Pretty much meaning you’ve just captured the ENTIRE bell curve of activities I use to measure team performance at the very highest level in the World.
With that data you can now determine, analyze, and document/chart/track ways to improve your attacking as well as defending team performances. And as each game occurs you continue to build a data.
This information is then used to help you develop new training plans that look to help the team improve where weaknesses exist.
I do not recommend keeping track of individual performance unless you have enough parents and players who are mature enough to deal with individual weaknesses.
This approach should have application at any level of soccer – to include premier, as well as select, recreational, ODP or elsewhere. As a matter of opinion, I’d offer the closer you are to a higher level of play the more important this approach becomes.
Outcomes from this approach give data to set targets for improvement and the ability to measure the success in that improvement.
In addition, this approach also reinforces that Youth Soccer Development is not all about winning, it’s about getting better while trying to do the things teams need to do in order to win.
If any team wishes to take on this challenge, as a youth club, anywhere in America, send me your data and I will give you one month of analysis that includes preparing products I develop in my analysis of professional football clubs.
I may even publish those products, as examples, for others to learn from in future articles.
And if you are located in the Portland or Beaverton area send me a note and I will make every effort to visit a training session, and or game, to help better explain this approach.
Finally, my general analysis may also include some recommendations on what training plans/programs may help focus your team on key areas to improve.
Bottom line at the bottom:
There is value in understanding and tracking the basic activities that occur in a game of soccer. It not only helps the players understand their larger role in this team game it also helps the parents understand the greater detail and responsibility you have as a coach to help others get better as a ‘team’.
In case you missed it; this year four Head Coaches from teams who finished near or bottom on the CPWP Strategic Index have already been sacked in MLS:
And last year five of the six worst teams in performing the PWP steps had the Head Coaches sacked!
Pretty compelling evidence that teams who perform better have Head Coaches who last longer… if you want to have success as a Youth Head Coach then I strongly suggest you adopt the measurement methods and analysis associated with PWP; with or without using Parents/Guardians.
If there are every any questions please feel free to contact me through Linked-in or through twitter; my twitter is @chrisgluckpwp.
COPYRIGHT, All Rights Reserved. PWP – Trademark.
In my previous series on Expected Wins Four – probably more appropriately entitled “Expected Points” – I’d taken a look at how the general tendencies of four primary Leagues in Europe (England, Germany, Spain, as the UEFA Champions League) compare to Major League Soccer – Is European Football Really Higher Quality than Major League Soccer?
This time I’m focusing strictly on Europe and offering up how things stand in PWP with the season coming to a close soon. But before digging some things to share about PWP to date:
A reminder – PWP is about two things:
- The End State in that the final Index comes as close as possible to the League Table without using points earned in any of the calculations, and
- Recognizing that soccer is a game that is played in a free flowing environment – picture two amoeba fighting against each other in a confined space…. There is attempted control by the Head Coach that includes tons of preparation to set the stage for ‘an approach’ to earn three points – and then there is the game itself where there is but one time out (halftime) – no namby pamby huddles or official stoppages of play between possessions. Meaning these guys play a full-on, in your face (sometimes literally), non-stop, constantly thinking and reacting to the game that can literally see the ball go in any direction at any time… not purely random but close.
Given that, PWP attempts to tone down all that volatility and parse out general tendencies that fall within the bell curve of activities – it’s not perfect – but it’s bloody good… and yes – I have made a few mistakes along the way (if you don’t work you don’t make mistakes). The latest has been a technical mistake – the relationship of CPWP to the League Table is not an R Squared number (Coefficient of Determination) it is an R number (Correlation Coefficient).
For the stats followers that may be an issue… but even with the Modernized TSR (read here) the CTSR “R” is still generally lower (team to team) and certainly lower (table to table) than CPWP – meaning there still remains room for both statistical analytical approaches in a gmae that is played across the world…
Also, my thanks to some great research by Rob Lowe, a mate with the same passion for footy, who has asked to collaborate with me in the future. He has done some additional regression analysis on the data points of PWP with respect to goals scored and points earned. I should point out that his results show that not all six of the data points in the PWP equation independently-directly relate to goals scored or points earned. For me that is okay – and actually great news for a few reasons…
- Both of my two new statistics (Passes Completed in the Final Third per Passes Completed across the Entire Pitch – Step 3 of PWP) and (Shots Taken per Completed Pass within and into the Final Third – Step 5 of PWP) did statistically relate to Goals Scored and Points Earned (independently). Meaning those new statistics are relevant – both within the context of PWP and outside the context of PWP. It’s this statistical regression type information that should solidify these two new statistics in the world of soccer.
- For both Possession (Step 6 of PWP) and Passing Accuracy (Step 5 of PWP) – as you will see a bit later – those two derived data points were never supposed to directly (independently) relate to goals scored or points earned as a matter of course I have advocated for quite some time that they shouldn’t. PWP was built with the intention that the six derived data points only needed to relate to each other in a stair step relationship recognizing that in every game a team needs to possess the ball, move the ball, penetrate the opponent’s final third, take shots based upon that penetration, put them on goal, and score goals – all while preventing the opponent from doing the same thing.
- Another view on the outcome that Rob has noted – it’s unreasonable to analyze a game of soccer without taking those activities into account. Rob’s positive feedback was that both possession and passing accuracy act as a “smoothing agent” within the Index – I agree but with beginning to learn the nuance of writing an Academic Paper I would put it this way.
- Possession and Passing Accuracy stats have limitations when vewing overall regression analysis relative to goals scored and points earned – but those limitations actually give the overall analyst of soccer a much better understanding about the context of activities that occur when a team is performing better than another team.
- In addition, Passing Accuracy statistics provide a coach a great measurement tool for how well some players may develop and progress into higher levels of competition – to exclude data of this import really ignores some of the most fundamental training aspects a team needs to do in order to improve.
- Also, there is excessive volatility in the percentages associated with Shots on Goal versus Shots Taken and Goals Scored versus Shots on Goal – if I only look at those two things then evaluating a game is all about (pass-fail) – granted winning and losing is pass-fail. But to develop a “winning culture” a grading system perhaps more appropriate is A-B-C-D-F – in other words there are levels of success above and beyond pass-fail – especially when you are a team that isn’t at the very top of the league.
- By having Possession and Passing Accuracy in the equation you get a much larger (explanatory) picture on the culture of success – and as things appear to take shape, the Index itself, gives better clarity to that level of success for teams that are mid-table as opposed to bottom dwellers or top performers…
Now for the grist in Europe – first up – England:
Note that the first two diagrams (in each four diagram grouping) highlight where the highest quantity and highest quality occurs within each competition – after some growing pains (earlier Expected Wins measurements) all four competitions now see the teams that win having the highest averages, in all categories, for both quantity and quality… proving (for the most part) that more is better and more results in more…
All told the correlation, at this time, remains very strong – note that the “R” has replaced the “R2” in my third and fourth diagrams.
If I remove Possession and Passing Accuracy from the CPWP Index – the R value drops to .78 – statistically reinforcing that the Index, itself, better represents the standings in the League Table by including Possession and Passing Accuracy data. Proving yet, another way, that goals scored and shots taken simply do not provide adequate depth on what activities occur on a pitch relative to earning points in the League Table! And if you’ve read Moderning TSR this doesn’t mean ATSR/DTSR or CTSR doesn’t have value – it does…
As things stand today Chelsea take the League and since Man City, Man United, and Arsenal round out the top four (different orders) in both CPWP and CPWP-PI I’d offer it’s those four that advance to the UEFA Champions League next year. The bridesmaid looks to be a two horse race (Spurs supporters may argue that) between Liverpool and Southampton.
Note that Southampton edges Liverpool in CPWP but that Liverpool edges Southampton in CPWP-PI – meaning when excluding Goals Scored – Liverpool has better quality than Southampton – so for Liverpool it’s more about converting Shots on Goal to Goals Scored – while for Southampton it’s more about getting clean sheets and scoring at least one goal; at least in my view – others may see that differently?
In retracing the earlier discussion on the data within the six steps of PWP – as you can see in both the first and second Diagrams (for all competitions) the Exponential Curve (Diagram 1) and well as Power Curve (Diagram 2) the stair step relationship between the data – point to point – are incredibly high… Even more intriguing is how close those “R2” numbers are for both winning, drawing, and losing… really driving home the point, in my view, just how small the margin of error is between winning, drawing, and losing.
For goals scored (for or against) we really are talking about 5 or 6 standard deviations to the right of the bell curve…
Perhaps the most intriguing issue this year isn’t the FC Bayern story – it’s the lack of goal scoring in Borussia Dortmund – when viewing the CPWP Predictability Index clearly Dortmund is offering up all the necessary culture the team needs in order to succeed – with one exception – goal scoring…. wow!
Another surprise may be Wolfsburg I’d pick them, and Bayer Leverkusen to finish two-three in their League Table – both show pedigree in team performance both with and without considering goals scored…
Barcelona and Real Madrid are locked in for the top team battle – my edge goes to Barcelona. I’d offer more here but I’m simply not up on the La Liga as much as I’d like to be…
UEFA Champions League:
The top eight teams that advanced are identified above – given the general success of CPWP relative to the top eight I’d expect FC Bayern Munich, BArcelona, Real Madrid, and Juventus to advance to the semi-finals.
My first of at least 4-5 Academic Papers is soon to be published – my thanks to Terry Favero for helping me work through this new experience – his support, patience, and knowledge in navigating all the nuance associated with writing an Academic Paper has been superb!
All four European competitions show more gets you more – this was not the case for Major League Soccer last year:
When more gets you more in MLS then I sense MLS has reached the BIG TIME – until then I think it’s a great breeding ground for Head Coaches that simply can’t get a job with a soccer club that has huge pockets of money.
Put another way – and many may disagree… I think a Head Coach who really wants to challenge their intellectual grit against another Head Coach can have greater opportunity to do that in MLS than they can by Head Coaching most clubs in Europe.
Why? For at least one reason – a Head Coach in MLS really has to do more with less…
Errata – the first MLS slide indicates 654 events – the correct number is 646 events…
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My after season team performance analysis continues.
This week I’m taking a look at Clearances. A much used individual statistic that many rely on to rate the value of central defenders. But does it add real value? Are defenders with more clearances better than those with fewer clearances?
My research looks at clearances from two different perspectives:
- What is the relationship of clearances by the opponents’ relative to a team earning points, and
- What is the relationship of defensive clearances by your own team relative to your team earning points.
For Major League Soccer, 2016, the number of clearances each team had, and their opponents’ had, was counted per game.
I then did a simple correlation on the number of clearances (per game) relative to the points earned (per game). Pictured below is a summary of the two perspectives relative to their correlation to points earned.
- Diagram 1: The average number of opponent clearances (per game – right part of the diagram) has a (-.30) correlation to points earned.
- Diagram 1: The average number of defensive clearances (per game – left side of the diagram) has a (+.30) correlation to points earned.
- Diagram 1: It’s pretty clear that the correlations vary (considerably) from team to team.
Average of opponent’s clearances per game versus points earned:
- Sporting KC gained the most benefit from lack of opponent clearances throughout the season; their correlation was (-.48). In other words Sporting KC were more inclined to earn points when the opponent had fewer clearances. This seems reasonable, especially since Sporting KC offered up the second most crosses (19 per game) this year. The less likely the opponent was in clearing those crosses the more likely Sporting KC had in converting those crosses to goals scored.
- DC United got the least benefit from lack of opponent clearances; their correlation was (-.08). In other words the number of clearances by their opponent’s, throughout the season, had little to no overall impact in DC United earning points. This also seems reasonable since DC United offered up the third fewest crosses (14 per game) this year. With not many crosses offered it seems reasonable that this mode of creating scoring chances was less likely to occur.
What’s that mean?
- For me, I would offer it means the number of defensive clearances an opponent has, per game, isn’t really a strong team indicator.
Average of defensive clearances per game versus points earned:
- San Jose gained the most benefit from defensive clearances (.57); meaning San Jose were more inclined to earn points when having more defensive clearances per game. This seems reasonable as San Jose faced an average of 20.5 crosses and over six corners per game; tied for 8th most in each category across the league. A higher volume faced should result in a higher volume of clearances.
- New York Red Bulls gained the least benefit from defensive clearances (-.01); meaning the Red Bulls were just slightly more inclined to earn points when they had fewer defensive clearances (per game). What is unusual with New York is they averaged a greater number of defensive clearances (21 per game) but faced fewer crosses and corners than San Jose.
What’s that mean?
- For me, I would offer it means (again) the number of defensive clearances a team has, per game, doesn’t greatly determine the outcome of a game.
- If neither opponent defensive clearances per game, nor your own teams’ defensive clearances per game, don’t have a strong correlation to points earned then the individual player statistics – that make up those clearances’ statistics won’t have much value either.
- If anything – given the wide variation in clearances’ value, relative to points earned, a players’ individual clearances (per game) should be weighted relative to that game – and that game only. Recognizing that the ‘weight’ of those clearances is subject to change every single game.
- Perhaps what’s really missing here is the volume of “clearances not made” instead of “clearances”?
- Finally, as a ‘giggle check’ if-you-will, I did take a look to see if the correlation of clearances was over .50 relative to the number of opponent crosses and corners offered – it was. The average correlation across the league was .71 – quite strong… see Diagram 2 below.
- So our own common sense is supported by data analysis.
- Said differently; “common data sense” shows the volume of clearances are related to the volume of crosses and corners.
- Therefore… (in my view)
- If “the common data sense” (shown in Diagram 1) does not show the volume of clearances having a strong relationship to earning points then our own common sense should follow that view.
- Again reinforcing that individual defensive clearances, as an effective individual statistic, does not add real value at all.
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Two weeks in and Manchester City pretty much throws the gauntlet down against Liverpool and walks away with a dominating win.
Three other teams have also begun the season with six points (Spurs, Swansea, and Chelsea) but do those four teams show the most consistency with purpose in possession, penetration and creation of shots taken that result in goals scored?
And, do those same four teams show the most consistency in preventing their opponents from doing the same thing to them?
What about the early season dogs (QPR, Burnley, Crystal Palace, and Newcastle) – where do they fit?
I’ll try to answer those questions without too much detail given the season is just two weeks old.
So to begin; here’s the Composite PWP (CPWP) Strategic Index after Week 2:
- A quick look at the table sees the top four in the Index as being the top four in the Table – not specifically in order but there it is.
- In looking at the bottom end of the Table the bottom four teams in the Index match exactly the bottom four in the Table.
- I doubt very much the level of accuracy will match the League Table that well throughout the year.
- Of note is that Arsenal, Hull and Aston Villa are next up in the Table but Villa seems to drift down a bit in the CPWP; perhaps the APWP or DPWP might explain that drift compared to Arsenal or Hull City?
- As a reminder – the End State of the Index is to provide an objective view of team performance indicators that don’t include Points in the League Table – in other words it’s a collection of data points, that when combined, can provide value in what team activities are occurring that are directly supporting results on the pitch – sometimes results on the pitch don’t match points earned…
- In leveraging this Index last year in the MLS it was very accurate in reflecting why certain Head Coaches may have been sacked – in a League like the EPL (where everything is expensive) perhaps this Index might have even more value to ownership?
- Movement in the Index – in the MLS, this last year, I have seen teams move up as many as 12 places and down as many as 11 places – after the 4th week – so the Index is not likely to stay constant – there will be changes.
I do not quantify Index outputs specific to individual player acquisition or performance – there is no intent to do this. It’s my belief, good or bad, that even with individual star performances a team is a team is a team – you win as a team and you lose as a team… but this Index isn’t intended to stop others from doing that.
I leave that individual analyses for others who are far better at digging into the weeds than I – for the EPL I’d imagine many folks gravitate to @statsbomb or other @SBNation sites – I respect their individual analyses as I hope they respect my team analyses.
Whether the consistency of value shows itself in assessing team performance in the EPL like it has in Major League Soccer I have no idea – we will follow that journey, in public, together…
Now for Attacking PWP (APWP):
- In recalling Villa’s drift (it is still early) perhaps it’s an early indication that Villa are playing slightly more direct (given past indications analyzing Major League Soccer) – or with a greater lean towards counter-attacking and quick transition?
- In taking a quick look at their average volume of passes per game (305) compared to the rest of the EPL (456) it would seem to indicate Villa are playing more direct football.
- The team with the highest APWP while falling below the average number of passes attempted, per game, is Leicester City; they average 308 passes per game compared to the 456 average of EPL. For me that’s an early indicator that they are making the best use of a direct attacking scheme – others may have a different view?
- The team with the lowest APWP while showing higher than the average number of passes attempted, ~(500 per game), is Stoke City – that might indicate the Potters are looking to possess the ball more with the intent to possess it as opposed to penetrating with it. Folks who follow Stoke a bit closer might be able to add to that as I’ve yet to see them play this year.
- In terms of early form, relative to the six team performance indicators, Chelsea are tops with Everton, Arsenal, and Man City close behind.
- With respect to bottom feeders QPR are bottom in CPWP and bottom in APWP as well; most figured they’d be early favorites for relegation – the PWP Indices seem to lean that way already as well…
- Perhaps the early surprise in APWP is Newcastle? Not sure about that one – last time I lived in England Alan Shearer was their striker and probably the best one in the country at that time… others will no better about what Alan Pardew is up to…
Next up Defending PWP (DPWP):
- Leaders here include Spurs, Man City, Swansea and Newcastle – is this an early indicator that Newcastle has experienced bad luck already? Not sure but three of the bottom dwellers here are three of the four bottom dwellers in CPWP.
- Although not real clear here it might be easy to forget that Arsenal had a blindingly great first game and then eked out a draw against Everton in the last ten minutes; in considering that this data still just represents two games…
- Recall Stoke City – and the potential view that they might be possessing the ball with an intent to possess more-so than penetrate – even with just 1 point in the League Table their DPWP exceeds West Ham, Liverpool, and others who are further up the table.
- Man City showed great nous last year in winning the League and it reaffirmed for many of us the importance of defending – Liverpool were close last year given an awesome attack – players have changed but it’s likely the system/approach has not varied that much. And after two games Liverpool are embedded firmly in the middle of the DPWP pack.
- Can they push higher up the DPWP? And if so, will that climb in the DPWP Index match a climb in the League Table; or vice versa?
Far too early to look for trends but these first few weeks will provide a baseline for future trends.
As noted in my most recent articles on Possession – the more accurate soundbite on whether or not a team is more likely to win has more relevance with respect to Passing Accuracy (>77% in MLS usually means a team is more likely to win) and not Possession.
The margin of winning and losing in MLS is far to muddied when looking at Possession – so as the EPL season continues I will also make it a point to study what ‘soundbite’ has more relevance; Passing Accuracy or Possession.
Other links that may be of interest to you include:
My presentation at the World Conference on Science and Soccer
New Statistics (Open Shots and Open Passes)
Thanks in advance for your patience.
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As part of my continuing analysis on Major League Soccer, with respect to Possession with Purpose, here’s an interesting view on the relationship between fouls committed in the Defending Final Third versus Defensive Possession with Purpose (DPWP), Points in the League Table, and Composite Possession with Purpose (CPWP)…
Teams are ranked from most to least fouls in the defending third with their DPWP, Sum of Points Taken, and CPWP article.
Note that three of the four teams with the fewest points in Major League Soccer also commit the most fouls in their own defending third; Portland, Chivas, and Montreal – and a team that has been taking a slide in the league standings of late, FC Dallas, are also in the top four.
An issue with this table is that the number of games played is not equal – it is what it is.
Note the teams in the bottom half of the table; LA Galaxy, New England, Colorado, Sporting, and Seattle are teams that come to mind who are doing well this year in minimzed fouls as well as good standing in the league table – an odd one out is New York.
Perhaps their lower points total and lower PWP Index ratings are more to do with having average players who are more disciplined in not fouling but less disciplined in good position play?
In other words they are so far out of position that they can’t get close enough to foul in order to shut down their opponent; or, they are so disciplined in not giving away a set-piece/penalty they would rather rely on their keeper to try and make a save or rely on the opponent to ‘miss’?
I’d probably support the later more than the former – but since their back four has been a mish-mash of starters throughout the whole year it’s pretty hard to tell…
In looking from a different point of view; fouls made versus PK’s conceded, Opponent Goals Scored and Goal Differential the overall data still remains compelling – fouling your opponent in your Defending Final Third will negatively impact points in the league table…
In looking at Portland in particular; clearly the number of fouls conceded in the final third relates to the average number of PK’s conceded this year… (4.21 to .64).
Three other leaders (if you will) in this area are Montreal (3.17 to .33), Houston (2.87 to .40), and New York (2.29 to .43). Of all these teams all three have negative CPWP Index numbers, (-0.2345 for Montreal), (-0.2741 for Houston), and (-0.0416 for New York).
The odd one out, by a slim margin, is Portland who sits on 0.0616 CPWP; a testament, if you will, in their ability to score goals…. if only they could prevent goals better.
The most compelling evidence to me however, is not pictured, the Correlation of Fouls committed in the Defending Final Third to Opponent Goals Scored is .6146 and the Correlation to Goal Differential is -.5267.
In other words there is a strong relationship between fouls committed in the Defending Final Third and Goals conceded…
Of interest for me is that the relationship also translates back to DPWP and CPWP; the correlation of Fouls conceded in the Defending Final Third to DPWP is .5495 while the Correlation to CPWP is -0.4853.
Not as strong as the league table correlations but enough of a correlation to reinforce that the PWP Indices have relevance to points in the league table without including (points) in the analysis that creates the Indices of team performance.
Fouling your opponent in your own back yard hurts – it not only hurts team performance it also hurts in the league standings…
Those teams that do this regularly don’t appear to do well (based upon both views of data – quantitative and qualitative) in Major League Soccer…
Serving as a head coach in Major League Soccer is not easy – the rotating door of coaches leaving seems non-stop. So the departure of Caleb Porter doesn’t surprise me. I sense there may have been multiple reasons but I’ll set the stage for one – main reason – a reason you won’t see published by Major League Soccer nor the Portland Timbers.
To do that I sense it’s worthy to spend about four minutes and four seconds sharing some information on the topics below. Perhaps this approach will help others better understand why I believe what I believe?
- Our first encounter
- Our relationship over the last five years
- Major League Soccer and the Portland Timbers over the last five years
- The current state of soccer styles in Major League Soccer
- In closing – why I think Caleb Porter left Portland
Our first encounter:
I first met Caleb Porter at spring training, held in Arizona, February 2013.
- I was nervous (really nervous) – here’s me – someone who’s been out of coaching for over 10 years looking to have one of the top college coaches and newly crowned lead of Portland be my sounding board for a new analytical approach I was developing for soccer.
- I introduced myself and he gladly accepted the opportunity to chat – his first words to me, said with a smile, “you’re a soccer junky”…
- I said, (with a smile) well maybe, but I consider myself someone who’s passionate about the game and I want to help others better understand the nuance of soccer, the statistics, how they can be misinterpreted and what greater value there may be in evaluating ‘team’ performance not individual performance – he agreed and listened.
- At the end of our meeting, 40 minutes later, he wished me the best and said stay in touch I want to hear how things go.
My takeaway was – wow – great guy – he had chatted with me for quite some time, he was open, forthright, honest, and above all welcomed the opportunity to share what he’d experienced and how it helped him shape his style of play.
I did stay in touch; over the last five years:
- We regularly exchanged thoughts on my progress on “Possession with Purpose” (now published globally) with him even mentioning during one press conference after a previous game “that was pure possession with purpose – Gluck would be proud of that”.
- We met many times to share (unfiltered thoughts, documents, and video) on players, upcoming games, tactics, scouting reports, and the dynamics on style of play in Major League Soccer, sometimes we met for lunch at the Timbers training facility sometimes we just chatted after their training session.
- Most recently he agreed to be a reference for me on my coaching resume and gave me the go-ahead to share older video data with my high school team when teaching controlled possession-based soccer; my style of play too.
- At all times, inner discussions about the Timbers were confidential.
My observations about Major League Soccer and Portland Timbers over the last five years:
- Some outputs of soccer played in Major League Soccer are an aberration.
- No league, I’ve measured, in the top European countries, or at the World Cup level, sees lower levels of passing accuracy and possession rewarded with post season adulation – or entrance into a ‘champions league’ the next year.
- In Major League soccer mediocrity in the league table is rewarded.
- For me, it’s simply unacceptable that teams who FAIL to win more than 50% of their games are considered good; not even College Soccer does that!
- To hear others justify that it’s (okay) is offensive to me and …maybe to others?
- Each year Caleb Porter has had to adjust his style of coaching soccer given the construct of the league and the nature of the franchise where player acquisition is limited due to the salary cap or disturbed due to ‘expansion’.
- In the last five years over 91% of Portland Timber player acquisitions have failed – the most recent and obvious being the $5M drop on Lucas Melano – a player with no first touch what-so-ever.
- Yes… Portland won the MLS Trophy in 2015 – but they’ve played better soccer in years they didn’t even make the playoffs, if that makes sense???
The current state of soccer styles in Major League Soccer:
- Build from the back using a controlled possession-based system that sees controlled possession leading to controlled penetration, creation, and goals scored plus there are instances where the team possesses the ball simply with the intent to possess and prevent the opponent from possessing the ball. In other words a majority of the game is controlled by controlling the ball.
- Major League Soccer teams CANNOT and DO NOT effectively execute this style of play; okay – maybe one team – New York City FC.
- Play somewhat more direct with variations in your line of confrontation as well as your depth of defending, recognizing that controlled possession with the intent to possess is not a tactical option but direct attacking possession with the intent to penetrate is.
- Major League Soccer teams, show, on rare occasion (Toronto, New York, Columbus, Kansas City, and Portland) varying levels of ability in executing this style of play
- Cede possession with the intent to counter via direct attacking; pretty much throwing out the idea that controlled possession is needed at all. In short ‘controlled possession’ for these teams is a string of three, four, or five passes leading to a shot taken – with the initial pass originating from anywhere on the pitch.
- Major League Soccer teams almost always show tendencies in trying to execute ONLY this style of play.
It’s my firm belief that to be great at #3 you must first know, understand, and have the ability to execute #1 (first) and then #2 (second)…
In other words – knowing how to play soccer is knowing how to use /create time and space anywhere on the pitch.
If you only play styles #3 then #2 you only educate your players on using/creating time and space available given those short/mid-term scenarios.
Meaning you aren’t maximizing your teams’ (learning) ability to use/create ALL the potential time and space available anywhere on the pitch.
I hope that makes sense?
After taking into consideration my own personal knowledge of Caleb, our discussions, and current conditions on style of play in Major League Soccer I’d offer…
Caleb left because he was frustrated with the style of soccer he had to coach instead of the style of soccer he wanted to coach.
What tipped the scales this year might have been his approach to the front office saying I want to redo the entire team organizational structure to develop and acquire players who can play a more possession-based style of soccer and the front office said no…
Hence the “fundamental difference”.
I don’t sense Caleb Porter is ready to take on the United States Men’s National Team yet.
But IF HE DOES – I’ll bet he “drives” (with a passion unmatched) United States soccer towards being a controlled possession-based team – and that, in my view, is the ONLY way this country can challenge at the highest levels of international soccer.
FACT: The best national and domestic teams “regularly” play controlled possession-based soccer building from the back….
I wish Caleb Porter the very best as he carves out his future in coaching at the very highest levels of our profession.
Is this a likely pre-cursor to the MLS Championship Game?
I’m not sure, but given the wild west, and more predictable east, it isn’t beyond reason to think so. In preparing my information for your consideration here’s a link to my Total Soccer Index:
The Science (Attacking):
Toronto at home compared with Portland on the road.
The part of Possession with Purpose that stands out first is ‘penetration’.
- Out of an equal amount of possession and passing accuracy for both teams Toronto shows a greater (much greater) edge in penetration; the difference is striking; almost 20% more penetration per total possession than Portland.
- That considerable advantage in increased penetration leads to a 10% increase in the precision (putting shots on goal) followed by another 10% increase in finishing.
- Twenty six goals scored at home for Toronto vs seventeen goals scored on the road for Portland. Not only is Toronto’s quality better; their quantity is too…
It is likely Toronto will penetrate more often and offer up more shots than Portland – meaning a reasonable game plan for Portland will be to cede some space up top (maybe after the first 15 minutes) and then look to clog the middle and defensive third of the pitch.. relying solely on the counter-attack to get a goal, or two…
The Science (Defending):
Like the attacking side of the equation; the part of Possession with Purpose that stands out first on how opponents attack against these two teams is penetration.
- Out of equal amounts of possession and passing accuracy by opponents Portland shows opponents have greater amounts of penetration.
- Opponents of Portland see a 10% increase in precision (shots on goal) and a 20% increase in finishing (goals scored against) than Toronto opponents.
- All told opponents have scored 23 goals against Portland, versus just seven for Toronto.
- Portland opponents see an increase in quality as well as quantity; matching exactly the characteristics of how Toronto attacks at home!
It would appear penetration is the key for both teams… therefore, trying to regain possession of the ball in the attacking and middle third will be crucial in order to disable a quick counter-attack when the ball is lost.
As much as it pains me to offer this – Bradley is known for coughing up the ball in the middle third of the pitch – I’d expect both David Guzman or Diego Chara to pressure Bradley whenever he has the ball.
Bottom line: If Portland scores (at all) they will REALLY need to protect that lead and that includes protecting the wings from overload by Toronto.
Total Soccer Index: Final Thoughts
If you’re a betting person – it’s likely Toronto win by at least one goal – if not two… but as we’ve seen this year “parity” rules in this league.
And even though the eastern conference seems to show greater strength in possession with purpose competitive conditions of the wild west may better suit Portland in a game like this.
Questions: It’s the fantastic four of both teams that will make the difference in the run of play.
- How well will Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore, Victor Vazquez, and Michael Bradley work against a healthy Timbers defense?
- Can Toronto’s defense control the attacking nous of Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe, and Sebastian Blanco along with the physically brutal aspect Fenando Adi brings as a true #9?
Set pieces win games…
The magic of one player, with one touch, that leads to one strike, and one brilliant goal awaits… as Diego Valeri, like set pieces, wins games too…
You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckpwp
Re-tweets are not rude… 🙂
This time it’s about the weather; record temperatures in Portland this week are forcing the Timbers vs Galaxy match to kick-off at 11 AM ‘left coast of America time’ and it should be a doozy…
Here’s my take using my new publication format, for your consideration.
Much has transpired in the world of soccer statistics over the past four years since I first published: Possession with Purpose – An Introduction and some Explanations.
- Three years ago I published my Possession with Purpose – Revised Introduction.
- In 2014 the concept was presented at the World Conference on Science and Soccer 2014.
- Last year the concept was published in Europe and just this year another part of Possession with Purpose was presented at the World Conference on Science and Soccer 2017 (Predictability).
- Now it’s time for a new update that hopefully brings more clarity and simplicity?
CLICK this link for my NEW simplified power point presentation update of Possession with Purpose the Total Soccer Index
- The .pdf version should make it easier to print and use as reference material.
Within you’ll find:
- Definition of TSI
- Purpose of TSI
- Premise of TSI
- Parts of TSI
- Leagues / competitions analyzed
- Application of TSI and its parts
- The data for leagues / competitions analyzed
- Observations & conclusions by league / competition as well as reviewing TSI across leagues / competitions
My thanks to all for your support and kind words throughout the years.
- The sum of the parts has greater correlation to points earned than the parts independent of each other.
- Player A, from Team A, within any given league, has a different correlation to points (performance/outcome) than Player B, Team B, Player C Team C, etc in that same league. In other words outcomes of individual player statistical analyses are NOT EQUAL from team to team and league to league.
- Said differently, clearances or crosses (used as a measurement in fantasy soccer) for one player, on one team, DO NOT have the same weight/value of clearances or crosses for a different player on a different team.
- Same can be said for passes or shots taken, etc.
- Therefore, Calculations such as Expected Goals are not an apples to apples comparison between teams within the same league. Yes, it’s a predictive tool, but flawed/
- The lower the overall correlation of the Total Soccer Index to points earned the greater the parity within the league or competition; this also intuits those are less predictable.
If you’re part of the Portland Timbers supporter-base or football organization this (should?) be a picture out your rearview mirror – not a vision on what’s ahead.
As noted by Porter in his latest post-game presser – there’s been some bullets flying… part of them their own making…
For me, even in defeat against Real Salt Lake, the most positive takeaway has been the open discussion about organizational failure – not individual player failure – when results didn’t go well. You win as a team – you lose as a team; professional or not…
Unlike some, I don’t think you ever forget that game against Real Salt Lake; you remember it, embrace it, and never-ever dismiss what it felt like to be so humiliated by that horrible team performance.
The next phase – let’s call it the “final attacking third” (math?) sees the Timbers with six games at home and six on the road. The most important game is the next game.
Houston: A team who’s been unbeaten at home this year.
As shown last weekend – when counted out – the Timbers aren’t out…
Any team, in any position in the league table, can beat any other team in this league… that may be disappointing to those who like to bet on a sure-thing but for those who thrive on second-chance football (another phrase for parity?) it’s great.
Porter has some guys returning – to include David Guzman, Alvas Powell, Darren Mattocks and Darlington Nagbe. As for Farfan, Vytas, and Ridgewell I don’t know…
I’d like to see Darlington Nagbe get a rest after the Gold Cup final but I’m not seeing that happen; I’d offer there’s too much at stake to see him begin the game on the bench.
So for the first time (in how long Mike Donovan?) we’re likely to see Adi, along with Blanco, Valeri, and Nagbe as the front four… or as I like to think of it the top half of a Christmas tree…
Adi up top with Valeri and Blanco roaming left, right, and center, while Nagbe provides the (holding) glue between and amongst them and whichever fullback or central midfielder decides to penetrate forward.
I’d expect Porter to be very excited to have these four starting in attack.
But we know there’s many views about football – here’s some thoughts provided by members of the Timbers Army Northern Alliance:
I’d love to see us make a formation shift to play Adi and Ebobisse up top. Ebobisse worked for every ball, fought hard and he showed the power and vision that a high draft pick like himself is expected to exhibit. His speed and vision with, Adi’s size and power, is a tough combo to handle. The work ethic he displays is also infectious.
I’ll need to see a couple more games with the effort we put out Sunday to believe we can make a run this season. Was good to see a makeshift lineup pull one out and play with some heart, which we’ve been missing. You want consistency but maybe shaking it up and letting some of the younger players get some minutes will light a fire under the veterans.
Haven’t looked sharp for a while and getting to that point where I was a couple seasons ago when I was just waiting for the season to play out so I could start fresh and be excited again for the next year. Funny thing happened though, went on a roll late and won the cup.
No matter what we do, our back line is going to be relatively weak. Embrace it and invest in extra attack. You can’t take advantage of our weak back line if you’re scrambling to stop our attack for 90 minutes.
I really hope Caleb makes the whole squad watch the Vancouver game film. We had nowhere near our First XI, but the guys who were there fought hard and made Vancouver earn everything.
It wasn’t the prettiest game we’ve played and the set piece marking was pretty bad, but I can definitely get behind a team that plays with that much passion and heart.
Many worthy thoughts…
I can see Ebobisse being a solid option in attack (off the bench), more-so than Darren Mattocks?
I also like the added grist we’ve seen from Dairon Asprilla; especially on the defending side of the wing.
Others (may?) disagree but it seems Ben Zemanski is more settled this year – I don’t see the uncontrolled wandering/tackling we’ve often seen in the past; his improved play is not misconstrued.
The bench doesn’t look so bad now.
And with Ridgewell, Vytas, and Farfan due to return soon places on the bench will be very hard to come by. I didn’t sense that earlier this season.
Bottom line at the bottom.
You can’t continue to expect to win if you cede goals; when Timbers have the lead, especially on the road, I’d offer more purposeful possession is needed.
You don’t need to penetrate, with the intent to score a goal, every single time you have the ball; sustaining possession, with patient and purposeful penetration, adds great value.
Especially since it means the opponent doesn’t have the ball – if they don’t have the ball they can’t score goals.
You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckpwp
Retweets always welcomed…